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Opinion: Cautious Optimism Required for Commercial Space in 2013

In te last few years private space firms have made huge strides in providing services to suborbital and orbital destinations. While these efforts should be encouraged and applauded - it is still necessary to temper excitement with caution. Space is a dangerous business and the first company to think they can do no wrong is the next company to file for bankruptcy. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / awaltersphoto.com

In the last few years, private space firms have made huge strides in providing services to suborbital and orbital destinations. While these efforts should be encouraged and applauded, it is still necessary to temper excitement with caution. Space is a dangerous business and the first company to think they can do no wrong is the next company to file for bankruptcy. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / awaltersphoto.com

During the past few years, private space companies have made leaps and bounds toward matching the accomplishments of what only nations had accomplished prior. If this trend holds, these firms could make even greater strides in the coming year. However, if history teaches us anything, it is that space is a very risky business, and today’s champion is filing for bankruptcy tomorrow. A recent article appearing on Space.com highlighted some of the events to look out for from commercial space firms in the coming year. So, what does 2013 possibly hold for NewSpace?

The current lion of the commercial space arena is, without a doubt, California-based Space Exploration Technologies, more commonly known as “SpaceX.” SpaceX had some anomalies crop up with both its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft during the first resupply flight flown under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract in October of 2012.

SpaceX has become the company to watch with its rockets and spacecraft conducting mission after mission with an almost perfect track record. Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX has become the company to watch with its rockets and spacecraft conducting mission after mission with an almost perfect track record. Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX made history just five months prior when it became the first private firm to have its Dragon spacecraft travel to, rendezvous with, and be berthed to the International Space Station. After completing its mission, it safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, a trait unique among cargo spacecraft (all other current cargo craft burn up in Earth’s atmosphere).

SpaceX currently plans to fly the second mission under the CRS contract in March of 2013. If SpaceX can get the kinks worked out and make travelling to the ISS a regular affair, it will go a long way toward having the company send astronauts to the orbiting laboratory—an effort the company is keen to accomplish.

SpaceX has a lot of ambitious plans on the horizon, from developing a rocket which has a first stage that can return back to its launch site to a manned base on the surface of Mars. In essence SpaceX is working to reinvent what is possible in terms of space flight.

One of the three awardees under NASA's Commercial Crew integrated Capability is Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser space plane. Image Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

One of the three awardees under NASA’s Commercial Crew integrated Capability is Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser space plane. Image Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

SpaceX is one of three companies that were awarded contracts under NASA’s Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap). The other two entrants, Boeing’s CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser space plane, by-and-large will spend most of 2013 testing their offerings for future crewed operations.

Boeing plans for a test flight of their CST-100 in 2015, and the Dream Chaser is not slated to launch until 2016. So, for the time being, in terms of orbital missions, 2013 will belong to SpaceX.

SpaceShipTwo, seen here underneath the White Knight Two carrier aircraft is set to launch this year. Photo Credit: The SpaceShip Company

SpaceShipTwo, seen here underneath the White Knight Two carrier aircraft, is set to launch this year. Photo Credit: The SpaceShip Company

If NewSpace is known for anything, it is the promise to open up space to “the rest of us.” With little doubt, the leader in this field is Virgin Galactic, which intends to ferry paying customers into suborbital space on board SpaceShipTwo (SS2) and its carrier aircraft, White Knight Two.

The vehicles are descendants of the famed SpaceShipOne and White Knight One, which shook up the aerospace world in 2004 by winning the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE, a contest held to open space flight to everyone.

SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X PRIZE and opened the door to space tourists who wanted to travel in space in 2004. Photo Credit: Scaled Composites.

SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X PRIZE and opened the door to space tourists who wanted to travel in space in 2004. Photo Credit: Scaled Composites.

Completing the objectives of the Ansari X PRIZE (and beating the altitude record of NASA’s X-15 space plane to boot) caught the eye of Sir Richard Branson, who entered into an agreement with Scaled Composites to produce a fleet of space planes for the new “Virgin Galactic” arm of his corporation.

SS2 and its carrier aircraft are part of The Spaceship Company, a joint venture between Branson’s Virgin Group and Scaled Composites.

The development of these craft encountered a setback in 2007 when an explosion killed three workers at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Since the heady days of SpaceShipOne, the project has stalled somewhat.

As of December 2012, the space plane has conducted 23 glide tests and is scheduled to begin ferrying customers into suborbital space by the end of this year. The price tag is a substantial $200K per flight. Numerous celebrities and movie stars including Angelina Jolie, William Shatner and Ashton Kutcher have purchased flights.

Of the companies above, the two to watch in 2013 are SpaceX and The Spaceship Company. The reason for this is simple: they have done something. SpaceX has proved detractors (this author included) wrong, time and again, and Virgin Galactic’s offering is based off of the success that was SpaceShipOne.

In this day and age, it is easy to show well-illustrated PowerPoint presentations and illustrations, and then make bold claims about what a company is “going to do,” but until they actually do something, that’s all there is—words and PowerPoint rockets. Having said that, the firms that have yet to achieve need to be supported, to a certain extent. All too often companies like the Rotary Rocket Company and Kistler Aerospace have held out their hands for more and more funding, but produced little.

So, if anything, 2013 should be considered the year of cautious optimism. Making bold predictions about what will happen, all too often leave one looking like Dick Morris, when he stated that Governor Mitt Romney would win the 2012 presidential election in a landslide.

57 comments to Opinion: Cautious Optimism Required for Commercial Space in 2013

  • Ferris Valyn

    I am noticing a lack of XCOR being in your story. It should be there.

    And NewSpace isn’t a group of companies. Its a way of operating

    • Aaron,
      XCOR was excluded to focus on companies that have achieved reaching either sub-orbital or orbital flight. SpaceX’s & TSC’s products have achieved this – XCOR has not.
      We’ve opted to use the term NewSpace to describe the firms working in this “way of operating” for some time now and feel it makes for good short hand.
      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

      • Ferris Valyn

        I’d also make a strong argument that ULA is somewhat NewSpace

        • Matt McClanahan

          Using what definition? I’d say ULA is exactly what NewSpace companies offer an escape from. It’s been the monopoly provider of NASA, NRO, and USAF satellite launch services since its founding. A merger which was ostensibly supposed to result in lower costs, but as with any monopoly situation, costs skyrocketed instead. They actively oppose competition, as evidenced by their efforts to keep SpaceX out of USAF’s EELV program. And if ULA is remotely interested in innovation in launch technology, they’ve done a great job keeping it a secret.

    • Jim Hillhouse

      Ferris,

      It would help, when writing about a story’s lack of content, to give a reason why XCOR should be in the piece.

      To my knowledge, XCOR has done some interesting work in motors. But to date, it hasn’t flown anything near to, or beyond, the edge of space.

      AmericaSpace has, rightly in my opinion, chosen only to write about companies that have, or are going, into space. When XCOR joins that fraternity, I’m sure its feat will be covered thoroughly by AmericaSpace.

      • Ferris Valyn

        Because they are building their vehicle, and showed it under construction at last year’s Space Access.

        And by that definition, you should also include Armadillo, because while I will grant, they didn’t make it all the way to space, 82 km is damned close.

  • Aaron,
    Again, they haven’t flown anything. You seem to have a conference-fixation. Kistler Aerospace & the Rotary Rocket Company attended a lot of conferences and look where their vehicles are now.
    You seem very interested in telling others what they should or should not write – I would suggest you try to consider other points of view than just your own.
    Moreover, I find it disappointing that you would work so hard to find issue with the simple suggestion that we be cautious about company’s that plan to send people into space. This gives you the appearance that you are more concerned with the projects you support rather than the safety of the crews that would fly on these vehicles.
    Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

    • Ferris Valyn

      1) I am not “conference fixated” – I am looking at actual hardware.

      Now, if your requirement is that they’ve actually FLOWN vehicles, than arguable you should include Masten, XCOR, Blue Origin, Armadillo. Granted, none of those vehicles were space capable, but they do fit the criteria of a vehicle (whether the EZ-Rocket, the X-Racer, the Stig, Xombie, New Shepard, etc) – all of those are real vehicles. I will grant that none of those vehicles made it to space. However, by a strict interpretation of your statement (that is, being suborbital) they do fit that definition. For that matter, you could/should consider Bigelow – admittedly they’ve been quiet for a while, but they still have 2 modules in orbit

      2) As for “being cautious” – you didn’t even MENTION XCOR (or the others for that matter). If you had provided a case about the other companies to watch, either for or against, I’d have less to complain about. I mean, your “company list” in this piece consisted of SpaceX, Boeing, SNC, and Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites/The SpaceShip Company.

      I have no problem being skeptical about a company. But if the measure is producing real hardware, or even vehicles, then your list is incomplete.

    • Ferris Valyn

      And of course, as I said – this all ignores ULA, which absolutely has hardware flying, and is arguably at least somewhat NewSpacey (at least, IMHO)

    • Putting XCOR in the same category as Kistler and Rotary Rocket is wrong. Lynx is being built right now in Mojave and is set for test flights this summer.

      • Doug,
        True, XCOR appears to be making good strides toward completing their objectives. What I was trying to illustrate was that there have been a gaggle of these companies that have come & gone and that I wanted to focus on those that have accomplished major objectives and proved their staying power.
        Sincerely, Jason Rhian – editor, AmericaSpace

        • Yeah…well, not sure how you can look ahead to 2013 with cautious optimism and not include a company actually building a space plane in a hanger that’s literally next door to one where WK2 and SS2 are housed with plans to fly it this year. But, as you have pointed out, it’s your analysis and your blog.

          Oh, Shatner’s not going near SS2. He’s afraid of flying. He’s on record publicly as saying he wouldn’t set foot anywhere near the thing unless Branson paid him to fly on it. Branson has refused. This is one thing where there are no celebrity freebies.

          Angelina Jolie? That’s a rumor that, as near as I can tell, was made up by British tabloids. It could be true or it might not be; the only thing certain is that the papers that originally printed it don’t care one way or the other. Bottom line, I’ve never seen it confirmed by Virgin or Jolie.

          • Hi Doug,
            Simplicity is best & I opted to focus on companies that have accomplished major objectives (Ansari X PRIZE & COTS). Has XCOR completed something similar to either the X PRIZE or NASA’s COTS program that I’m unaware of? Also, as I know you’re an expert on the subject, isn’t it true that a number of the folks behind XCOR worked for the Rotary Rocket Company?
            It isn’t my blog, but I understand your confusion. Sorry, I reviewed the announcements on MSNBC and selected those celebrities at random, thanks for clarifying, I really appreciate it.
            Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

  • Ferris,

    Please read my response again. When a company has “flown anything near to, or beyond, the edge of space”, it will be included in any future article about space companies that are flying into space. XCOR, Masten, Blue Origin, and Armadillo have not achieved this feat. That is not to take away from the interesting work they, and NASA programs such as ALHAT, Morpheus, and Mighty Eagle, have, and continue to, do.

    I’m sure ULA is happy to read of your desire that it be included in the “New Space” community.

    • Ferris Valyn

      82 km doesn’t count as edge of space? Please do explain (The second flight of STIG B).

      And also, there is Bigelow as well. Which has modules at altitudes higher than ISS. But whose counting….

      • Jim Hillhouse

        Ferris,

        You seem to have trouble understanding what the article was about. Please read it again with particular focus on the task all of the companies highlighted have in common. In particular, what are they trying to do that will “Open space to the rest of us”?

        Armadillo Aerospace is making fair progress, though it does seem that STIG B has suffered two anomalies of late. More to the point of Jason’s article is that Armadillo isn’t working towards placing people into orbit.

        • Hi Jim,
          In fairness to Ferris or Aaron or whatever his real name is – TSC is suborbital. I wanted to pick two of the big players in the commercial, private, NewSpace movement. On one side was NASA-related & the other was the lead company set to send “the rest of us” into space. I’ve a feeling no matter how many times we try to explain the point behind this opiniion-piece that Mr.Oesterle will refuse to accept it and we should just move on.
          Sincerely, Jason

          • Jim Hillhouse

            And I never assumed all of those highlighted in the article were orbital, only that they were crewed, which Virgin Galactic certainly will be.

  • You’re not asking the right questions.

    Does Scaled Composites have an engine capable of getting SpaceShipTwo above the Karmen line or not?

    Do they feel comfortable enough with the full-scale Sierra Nevada engine they’ve spent years testing to light that thing with people on board?

    If not, then what?

    They need to answer those questions this year.

    XCOR has questions to answer this year, too. But, the engine is not one of them.

  • Leonidas

    I found the article really honest and objective. Jason was reffering to the companies that 1)are trying to develop means of transportation for regular access to and from space and 2) have actually achieved in flying their hardware.

    Bigelow’s two in-orbit modules are a really impressive achievement in their own right and something to be really hopeful about in the future, but that company isn’t in the bussiness of creating launchers for going into orbit and back. They are creating space habitats and they’re relying on other firms (like SpaceX) to launch their payloads.

    I really liked the fact that Jason admits that eventhough he’s sceptical (and I share his view), companies like SpaceX ‘have proven him wrong time and again’ and that he’s cautiously optimistic about the future and I agree with him. I think that’s the right attitude that all space advocates, from any side of the coin should have.

    All in all, a very objective critical analysis of the status things are right now.

    • Ferris Valyn

      Sorry Leonidas, but thats not true.

      If you use your 2 criteria, again, we can point to vehicles like X-Racer, Stig, New Shepard, etc. And even if you put the caveat in that they must be near space, again, that means you HAVE to include Armadillo, (see STIG-B).

      And there was no implication of limiting it to JUST to launch vehicle providers. The article has no such claim.

      I have no problem with an eye towards skepticism. Thats a valid point. The problem is that the article suggests that outside of SpaceX and Virgin/Scaled/SpaceShip Company, most of the companies are at the powerpoint stage. And while there certainly are companies at that stage, there are also some that deserve far more respect than has been given here.

      Fundamental question Leonidas – XCOR has showed pictures of their Lynx Mark 1 vehicle under construction, and are expecting to fly it sometime this year. How do you rate their chances, and what do you expect to happen?

      Fundamental question – Armadillo has flown their STIG-B to 82 km. They’ve flown it a few times since then, but have had premature shut-downs. How do you rate their chances at crossing the 100 km threshold this year?

      And do you consider both to have the same standing as, say, Starchasers?

      • Leonidas

        I would give XCOR really good chances for this year. I’m optimistic they’d have a successful flight. As for Armadillo, I don’t know about this year, but I’m hopeful that eventually they’ll make it.

        My view is ‘the more the merrier’. If all companies succeed in their plans, I wouldn’t be more happy! For me ‘NewSpace’ and ‘government space’ (whatever these terms mean), aren’t contradictory, they’re supplemental.

        I’m all with you that XCOR and the other companies deserve equal respect. As Jason wrote in his article “Having said that, the firms that have yet to achieve need to be supported”. I don’t think that’s disrespect.

        The same level of skepticism goes to Orion/SLS also. Until it flies and it flies safely, it’s just a paper project, a powerpoint presentation. I think that’s valid and healthy criticism towards any launch provider, be it governmental or private one.

        I don’t think anyone who really cares about space transportation and expansion, whould argue against private companies and ‘NewSpace’. But he shouldn’t argue against govermental also. These two (should) have equally their place in the sun.

        And the remarks that Jason makes about crew safety are valid. Everyone remembers the space shuttle hype of the early 1980′s and everyone remembers January 28, 1986 (and February 1, 2003). Private companies are making the same claims that NASA did back then with the shuttle. That’s not to mean that the private companies can’t or won’t succeed. When they do, I’ll be the first one to party, believe me! But let’s see it happening first.

        (The same thing goes for Orion/SLS).

        • Ferris Valyn

          Let me deconstruct this a bit.

          First,

          “Having said that, the firms that have yet to achieve need to be supported”

          I am sorry, but that is disrespectful. Having delivered on MULTIPLE contracts, developed multiple test vehicles, completed the required paperwork, in some cases getting the launch license – that is to be supported and respected. These are not companies who have announced grand plans, but have no track record. They have not achieved the goal of crossing into space, but they are close.

          Second – as I’ve said, NewSpace isn’t a group of companies. Its a way of doing business. The fact is, NASA can become NewSpace (and parts of it have). The battle of NewSpace vs OldSpace isn’t about a battle of companies. It is about maintaining a traditional approach to large segments of how we do space, or not (I would say that a good chunk of that traditional approach is about whether NASA maintains operations of spaceflight, and whether companies have to take responsibility for the maximum ROI of what they develop for space) . A quick case in point – there is a whole lot of discussion about the Gateway station, but much of that discussion (at least that I’ve heard) assumes that the station’s operations and governance structure will look almost exactly like ISS. But that is, IMHO, a governance structure that can be improved on with radical change (for example, instead of replicating the Inter-Governmental Agreement, or having NASA do what it did with Skylab, do a port authority model, or even just have NASA lease a station when they need it). But those options are, AFAIK, not even on the table when it comes to the issue of doing an Gateway station.

          As for crew safety – I have no problem saying we need to ensure crew safety. I’d also argue that we have participant safety, with the understanding that its not NASA’s job to ensure that, necessarily.

          But thats not the issue here. IMHO, the real issue is that when you acknowledge that there is a greater number of providers, and a larger marketplace, and not just the 2 that Mr. Rhian is claiming, it acknowledges that NASA is not the model of efficiency that some people want to see it as. In other words, its dangerous challenge to a sacred mythology.

          • Leonidas

            Ferrys, I never said that NASA is the model of efficiency against which everyone should be rated. I’m rather critical of NASA for their apporoach on many things and not just commercial space. They aren’t operating on optimal efficiency, and they’re far behind what I’d call ‘optimal’. But that’s another matter altogether.

            Still, the fact that NASA and Congress are finally realising the idea of private access to space, can’t be overlooked, and it’s something way long overdue. Things we see happening today, should have started two decades ago. But better late than ever they say.

            And I understand your definition of ‘NewSpace’, It means a way of doing things. I only have a problem when people insist that we should eliminate NASA for the shake of ‘NewSpace’ and vice versa. That wouldn’t get us anywhere. Let the private space industry develop itself and take over low-Earth orbit operations, and let NASA focus on things beyond.

            As for all the companies you mentioned and have made significant progress, it’s true. They have done really good and they deserve respect and admiration like any other. Having not crossed space yet and not get listed in the article because of that, doesn’t mean disrespect. When they do, I believe they will be featured in this site and we’ll all be here to read about it :)

            • Leonidas,
              Although we try to be unbiased, there was something you mentioned that we truly do agree with and that is that we need both NASA & NewSpace. Sadly, all too often in this country the thought is “My way or the highway.” So, instead of a rational balance of both the establishment & NewSpace we get individuals that only want one – or the other.
              Sincerely and with thanks, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

              • Leonidas

                Yes Jason, that’s exactly the case!

                For my part, I’m a traditionally Huge NASA supporter (like you and Jim), but I’m a NewSpace supporter as well. The reason is because I’m ultimately a space supporter! I just want the space community to succeed and open up roads and ways safely to orbit! Who wouldn’t want that?

                That doesn’t mean I’m not skeptical about NewSpace, and that I endorse it blindly. And until I see it flying, neither I blindly endorse any new NASA plan, cause there is always the fear of a new President coming in and pressing the reboot button.

                I just want results from both ‘camps’. Is it so hard for NewSpace people to understand this simple point without making accusations that I’m a ‘NewSpace killer’ or something?

                And I only take issue when people start howling ‘kill NASA and spend money on NewSpace’ and vie versa.

            • Ferris Valyn

              Leonidas – if Mr. Rhian hadn’t equated it their current position with merely doing powerpoints, but instead had stated it as “SpaceX and Virgin/Scaled/SpaceShip Company have actually visited space, and thus IMHO they are in the lead” I’d have no problem with that. I can grant that interpretation of the facts (whether I agree with it or not doesn’t matter)

              But thats not what Mr. Rhian – he stated that only SpaceX and Scaled/SpaceShip/Virgin have “done something.” He then articulated that, in effect, everyone else has only showed pretty pictures, and offered public comments.

              And that is patently false, and insulting. He can pretend otherwise, but it is. And you can bet that if I had done the reverse on either the Senate Launch System, or Orion, he’d be offended.

              • Leonidas

                Ferrys, for my money, whatever criticism goes towards NewSpace firms, goes towards SLS also. Since we’re talking about launch providers that achieved orbital flight, should we add NASA and SLS to the list? Of course not! Concerning SLS, NASA (as is the case with some NewSpace firms), has made some design studies, passed some design milestones, partially constructed Orion, and is currently doing engine tests for the SLS. They’re years away from actual flying! So in essence, SLS is still a powerpoint presentation as some private firms’s concepts today.

                Having said all that, I think it’s time we get past the argument of which is best, apples or oranges, let government and private space do their thing, wish them all the best, and let’s really hope that in 3-4 years, we’ll have a plethora of options for going into orbit, and a whole list of launch providers, be it SpaceX, or NASA, or Sierra Nevada, or whoever.

                • Ferris Valyn

                  Leonidas – So you subscribe to the “we have a plan, lets not disrupt it” view point?

                  What happens if NASA is forced to endure a $1 Billion cut? What programs should absorb it?

                  • Leonidas

                    That’s a really good question Ferrys, and there’s no easy answer. My guess is that the whole NASA portfolio would be impacted, including CRS and SLS.

                    Yet someone could ask a similar question. What happens if (God forbid) SpaceX goes bankrupt tomorrow for whatever reason or faces a serious setback and can’t deliver. What happens with the money NASA would have invested in the company so far?

                    • Ferris Valyn

                      Absolutely someone could ask the converse. Actually, far more likely is something very unfortunate happens to Elon, and someone who doesn’t have his vision for the company steps in to take over? The short answer is probably we’d face some set backs, and pretty substantially.

                      Yet, let me pose to you a similar situation for SpaceShipTwo? Some sort of fatal flaw, unforeseen, and in the ensuing chaos, it becomes clear that there will be no successor to SS1 coming from that group? That would be unfortunate, but it wouldn’t even be close to fatal. For the very simple reason that we have 3-4 other companies who are working on, and very close to flying, human suborbital spacecraft.

                      If you want to ensure redundancy, make certain you have MULTIPLE options. And the other side of this coin is that NASA will be facing major cutbacks, sooner or later. That I am certain of.

                    • Ferris Valyn

                      And the other thing is this – I want a “plan” that will deliver us 1-3 million people in space in the next 50 years.

                      I don’t see how the current strategy begins to actually address the fundamental issue – the high costs of spaceflight

                    • Ferris,

                      All of us here know that price varies with supply. To get the cost of spaceflight down, two things need to occur. First, there is a need for more efficient propulsion with a requisite increase in mass-fraction. And we need more launches using launchers with those more efficient propulsion systems. It’s the whole DC-3 scenario.

                      One might hope that investors would step-up to incent the space tourism market. After all, we just spent something like $1.4T on the last presidential campaign. And 9 years ago, Futron predicted that by now hundreds of people would be going into orbit as space tourists while investors reaped the benefits. Yet I’m sure you’re well aware of the paucity of investors today interested in funding a space company.

                      Unlike the rise of our nation’s aviation industry, New Space cannot count on private investors for anything more than a small fraction of the money needed to get New Space into orbit. So the amount of investment is limited to what can be extracted from Congress out of NASA’s budget.

                      So, the to-be-continued funding shortfalls for NASA, and therefore New Space, will keep the supply of technological breakthroughs and launches too low to quickly drive-down the cost of launching a kg into orbit to the point where space is opened to the rest of us.

                    • Leonids,

                      If the COTS and CRS participants were to declare bankruptcy and liquidate, the space agency would not be due anything. So if Space X were to file for bankruptcy liquidation under Ch. 7, the assets NASA paid the lion’s share for such as the Falcon 9 and Dragon would go to whoever the bankruptcy court wanted.

                      It is my understanding that the latest rules for CCDev participants are that their NASA funded assets revert to the space agency should the participant undertake bankruptcy.

                • Leonids,

                  Your point about letting gov’t and new space coexist is a good one. If the aftermath of Great Space Debate of 2010 shows anything, it’s that SLS and Orion, and New Space are here to stay. The sooner the notion fades that for one to thrive the other must die, the better off the whole space program will be.

                  • Leonidas

                    Jim, I’m happy that both you and Jason share this view. I really couldn’t ever understand no matter how I tried, why there should be an ‘either/or’ mentality. Why not ‘both’?

                    If the space community fights with itself over such issues, then how can we excpect to see any real progress? Everyone seems to behaving like children. ‘Mine is better!’, ‘No mine ia better!’. Relax folks. There’s (should be) room for everyone.

                    • Ferris Valyn

                      And what happens when we don’t deliver anything for multiple years, and the non-space cadet community (IE the rest of the country/world) says “we can’t afford this anymore – we need all the money”

                      That day is coming.

    • Leonidas,
      Thanks, I appreciate this. You will find that Ferris (Aaron Oesterle) posts comments attacking anyone that has the nerve to highlight issues he would prefer weren’t mentioned. He also has the tendancy to state opinion as if it were fact. I wanted to thank you for acknowledging what I was trying to achieve in that we should be focused on crew safety – not on blind support for NewSpace.
      Sincerely and with thanks, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

      • Leonidas

        Jason, thanks for your comments. For my part, I’d like to thank you for the excellence that AmericaSpace is.

  • Aaron,
    I decided to write this opinion piece in a response to some things stated in the Space.com piece mentioned (the original piece only highlighted a couple companies that my piece did not). I opted to choose the lead companies of note, those that have accomplished major goals (Ansari X PRIZE & COTS). Never, did I plan this to be a piece that promotes every single last NewSpace firm out there. I know you’re a cheerleader for the NewSpace movement – how nice for you. But to be honest, your routine where you come on here and insist others believe as you do – is nauseating.

    This is the second time you’ve highlighted some conference or other (Space Access). It’s been my experience that conferences are worthless. T/Space, Space Dev, Rotary and Kistler all trotted out their wares at conferences – and all of these companies have folded. So yes, I narrowed the field down to the companies that have achieved major objectives. I’m so sorry that you aren’t capable of handling that decision – it really is unfortunate for you.

    Moreover, paraphrasing from Gene Roddenberry, “You’re under the mistaken impression that I produced this for you.” You continue to post comments stating what we should or should not do – sorry – it doesn’t work that way.

    Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

  • [...] So, if anything, 2013 should be considered the year of cautious optimism. Making bold predictions about what will happen, all too often leave one looking like Dick Morris, when he stated that Governor Mitt Romney would win the 2012 presidential election in a landslide.  Source: America Space [...]

  • No Aaron. we only ban those that insult/degrade & resort to personal attacks – not those that disagree with us. Just try to see/accept other’s opinions. I never disrespected anyone in my piece & as Leonidas pointed out, I stated we should support NewSpace’s efforts. You made my comments into an attack – which they obviously weren’t. We don’t blindly worship these groups as you seem to suggest we should & need to accept other points of view besides your own.

    • Ferris Valyn

      Sorry Jason, but the second to last paragraph (and arguably the paragraph before it) was an attack. You may view that as otherwise, but you equated the work done, the vehicles flown, as powerpoint. (To borrow from my favorite spy novel The Icarus Agenda, its either an attack or its incompetence that resulted in an attack).

      The issue has nothing to do with blind worship.

      • Aaron,
        If it was anything it was a counter-attack. You’re still incapable of accepting the simple fact this was an opinion piece focused on the companies that have accomplished MAJOR OBJECTIVES - winning the Ansari X PRIZE & completing the COTS program. Your comments and the fact that you have repeatedly ignored my explanation of where the article originated proves my previous assessments of where you’re coming from more succinctly than I could ever hope to.

        This marks the SECOND time you’ve written volumes of rants based on one or two words. I’d rather be incompetent in your eyes than be a slave to some dogma or mindset to the point where I have to have every single last word or phrase match my ideology. Again, the “Op” in Op-Ed stands for Opinion – not yours – mine. Suck it up – my thoughts don’t merge perfectly with yours. And yes, the issue of your repeated attacks has everything to do with your blind worship of the NewSpace philosophy – own it.
        Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

        • Ferris Valyn

          Thank you for keeping score – I rather thought I’d moved beyond only 2.

          As for my blind worship – my “repeated attacks” are about making certain that you are 100% consistent. I am sorry you feel thats not a responsible level when it comes to journalism.

          It has nothing to do whether I value 1 company, or 1 ideology over another. (And yes, next you’ll accuse me of playing lawyer – sorry, but that is something we should always strive to ensure we aren’t sloppy with our words)

          • Aaron,
            No, your attacks are about attempts to cow anyone that highlight the flaws in your personal beliefs. First you allude to my supposed incompetence & now you attack my professionalism.
            Yet again you don’t respond to my points AT ALL, much less even try to be an adult and see someone else’s point of view other than your own. When a person doesn’t have a response to the facts I presented & resorts to name-calling? That means you’ve lost the debate.
            How dare you accuse me of being sloppy with my words? All because I didn’t write my opinion piece exactly the way you PERSONALLY wanted? Try to be an adult and accept that not everyone completely agrees with your myopic world view.
            Since you appear to be a sloppy reader let me clue you in. This article (for the umpteenth time) was written to highlight those major NewSpace firms who have accomplished major objective and again (for the umpteenth time) I chose the Ansari X PRIZE and the COTS program. I also stated that we should support NewSpace’s efforts but to use caution as people’s live are on the line. The fact that you are so opposed to an article that stresses we should place crew safety over corporate-hype – says a lot about you.
            There is a reason that not everyone has fallen into line with the NewSpace belief structure and that is exemplified by the tactics you use. You post on websites under a “handle” insult, attack and state opinions as fact and then when all else fails you call those with the nerve to disagree with you “incompetent” and “sloppy.” In short? You epitomize all that is wrong with the NewSpace movement and it’s one of the reasons why I’m so happy to have you post on AmericaSpace.
            I’d like to waste more time explaining things to you, but you’re the type of person that would argue that rain isn’t wet -so what’s the point?
            Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

        • Ferris Valyn

          Fundamental question Jason

          Is Orion a powerpoint spacecraft? Because, by definition, it hasn’t reached space. Therefore, shouldn’t it be considered one as well?

          • Aaron,
            On-topic point – was Orion mentioned in this article? Nope. Showing, yet again, your skill at trying to change the subject and avoid accepting the precept behind which this Op-Ed was written.
            Bait and switch, straw-man arguments, ad hominem attacks – is it any wonder why so many are critical of NewSpace when a simple article, one that actually SUPPORTS your cause, can receive such a vociferous response?
            Thanks for proving my point better than I ever could. While we should support NewSpace (as my article states) – it’s obvious (through your posts) that believers in the movement have a LOT of growing up to do.
            Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

      • Moreover, I worry about anyone who even attempts to say ANYTHING to you. You take everything as an insult or an attack. Just because someone highlights something you don’t like – doesn’t make it an attack.

  • Leonidas

    Jim, thanks for clarifying the details concerning bankrupcy. I wasn’t aware of the legal info.

    Also, Ferrys, you say that you want to see 1-3 million people in orbit in the next 50 years. I want too. Really! But if this is your/our goal, then we’re playing the wrong game, dealing with chemical rockets in the first place. IMHO as much as you can innovate and reduce costs per launch, chemical rocket technology has ultimately an inherent limit you can’t cross and reduce launch prices more. Chemical rockets are inherently unsafe, unaffordable and risky for the kind of massive human expansion into space that we’re talking about here. Not exactly airline-type safe and affordable, is it? Try as you might, you can reduce the risk and cost up to some extend, but there’s a point when you reach a limit you can’t cross and reduce more.

    NewSpace companies have the potential to make chemical rockets more affordable and frequently used than what they were in the past, but (despite the NewSpace propaganda) its not likely they will re-ivent space flight as we know it (SpaceX has promised reusability with the Grasshoper and Reaction Engines Ltd has made some progress with its SABRE engine which *could be* used on the Skylon SSTO spaceplane. But these two are really Big *ifs*).

    If we’re talking about a massive human expansion into LEO and beyond, I’m afraid that chemical rockets will not cut it and all this Old/NewSpace debate may well be moot.

    You say that ‘you don’t see any current strategy that begins to actually address the fundamental issue’. Well, I see a more fundamental issue not being addressed at all. And that issue is the exact kind of technology we have chosen to conduct space transportation in the first place, for the last 50+ years.

    So my guess is that we’ll ultimately discover down the road that chemical rockets aren’t going to create the interplanetary railroad system we envision and we may have to turn to alternative and currently unpopular and politically incorrect transportation technologies, like nuclear power, space elevators and I don’t know what else.

    If we think we can really open up the space frontier with current excisting technology being used today then I’m afraid we’re delluding ourselves.

    • Ferris Valyn

      Leonidas – that is the classic mistake (at least IMHO) that gets made when talking about how to lower space access cost.

      Do we need better technology? Yes we do. But its not enough to develop new technology. You also have to put in place a system that uses that technology in the most efficient manner possible. You also have to convince a million people to go live permanently in space, and must provide a means for them to actually do so. In short, its not just about new technology. Its much bigger and more complicated than simply working on new technology.

      If I can go on a side rant for a moment – its the same kind of mistake that a lot of people make when talking about needing an Project Apollo commitment to clean energy. That wont’ work – its not enough money, not enough manpower, not enough energy, not enough brainpower.

      What we need is a WW2 style mobilization. Or, we need the kind of change that happened as a result of the internet. I don’t claim to know how to do this, but a big part of it isn’t just new technology. Its new systems, new forms of operation, new forms of communication.

    • Ferris Valyn

      And, I would like to add – this is actually something the space community misses. We focus so much on promoting STEM when it comes to space (if you want to do something related to the space field, everyone tells you to be a scientist or engineer) that we are severely deficient to actually address these problems. This isn’t to say that we should ignore STEM – but we’ve neglected a lot of other things that are important.

  • Leonidas

    Ferrys, you’re basically right and you make valid points. These are issues I don’t pretend to have the answers either. And all these issues have to be addressed when the time comes, but we’ re not there yet. We’re not even close.

    As you put it correctly: ‘You also have to put in place a system that uses that technology in the most efficient manner possible. You also have to convince a million people to go live permanently in space, and must provide a means for them to actually do so’.

    Yet IMHO, the defining start of the line, is new technology. When you have developed an affordable, relatively safe and accesible way of going into orbit, a way that can be compared to airline or railroad-type safety, accessibility and affordability, then the next step is to consider what you mention above. Current excisting chemical rocket propulsion technology sadly just doesn’t qualify. The way things are today, is like contemplating what you’ll do when you reach a faraway island without having build a boat in the first place. We space advocates may be contemplating such things, but the society at large, outside the space community, will only care about space IMHO only when it sees that there is actually a means of going there with the relative safety and affordability of other well-established means of transportation.

    • Ferris Valyn

      The problem, Leonidas, is that in fact, I’d argue we can no longer “address those issues when the time comes,” because, frankly, the time has come.

      Again, its not enough to have the technology – you have to actually have the system work. Whatever that system (whether its rockets, or space elevators, or magic unicorn). Part of the problem is we’ve spent multiple times trying to get cheap access (or at least cheaper access) by focusing purely on developing technologies, without looking at an integrated, operational system. We’ve had the Shuttle. We’ve had the NASP. We’ve had X-33/VentureStar. We’ve had the SLI. All of those presumed the starting point was a particular technology, and that would deliver us to “cheap space access”

      Again, this isn’t to say that we don’t need new technology, or we don’t need investment in technology. Rather, its not enough. I found it very interesting hearing the former NASA Senior Adviser for Commercial Space talk about how the NASA Chief Technologist (then Bobby Braun) in essence, basically determined that lowering the price of spaceflight was not a technological development issue, but a deployment of systems.

      Finally, even if we accept that technology is the real issue, then that should be the largest expenditure of money in the Spaceflight budget (or at least the HSF part). Technology to lower the price of spaceflight.

      And yet, we really aren’t spending that much money on it. In fact, the top 3 biggest expenses in HSF really don’t have anything to do with lower the price of spaceflight (they are ISS, SLS, and Orion).

      Thus, why we have a huge disconnect in space policy.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Jim,

    Its worth remembering the other thing that jumpstarted the aviation sector – the Kelly Air Mail act. Yes, it was a federal government program.

    But embracing that paradigm is something that many people are fighting against.

  • [...] So, if anything, 2013 should be considered the year of cautious optimism. Making bold predictions about what will happen, all too often leave one looking like Dick Morris, when he stated that Governor Mitt Romney would win the 2012 presidential election in a landslide. Written byJason Rhian -Originally appearing in  AmericaSpace  [...]