Private space is winning


Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.
 

Today I attended an space industry conference here in Orange County, California, sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Unlike the Space Hackers conference which also occurred today and to which I was also invited, this was not a New Space get-together, but a standard aerospace event which included a lot of old time engineers from the big old-time companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Most of the talks today were engineering related. For example, one described in detail the engineering advantages of building ion engines and solar sails at the molecular level, nanotechnology to the max. Another talk, which I found astonishing and exciting, was an analysis of the orbital mechanics of getting to Mars. This analysis found that using constant acceleration as low as .01 G it would be possible to get to Mars in weeks, not years, and without the necessity of waiting for the perfect launch window. You could launch almost anytime. Though we don’t have engines that as yet can provide this much constant low acceleration, these numbers are not so high as to make it impossible. With some clever refinements, it might be possible to come up with propulsion systems capable of these constant Gs, and to do it in the near future. If so, it will open up the entire solar system to manned exploration very quickly. Not only will we be able to travel to the planets in a reasonable time, the constant Gs would overcome the medical problems caused by prolonged weightlessness.

It wasn’t these interesting engineering presentations that got my juices flowing however. Instead, it was presentation on public policy issues that completely surprised me and made me think the future of the American aerospace industry is really going in the right direction. This significant take-away was further reinforced by the audience’s reaction to my lecture in the evening.

The presentation was by the local AIAA Orange County public policy vice chairman, Kamal Shweyk, on the AIAA’s efforts to influence Congress in how it spends its money on aerospace. Each year they have a day in which members of the AIAA descend upon Washington, visiting Congressmen and Senators to explain and educate them on the importance of aerospace to the nation. This is essentially a lobbying effort by American citizens, though they are very careful not to use that word because if they do, they might be required to register as officially lobbyists, something they understandably want to avoid.

Historically, AIAA has not been considered a New Space organization. Its members mostly come from the older aerospace companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Since these companies have generally been hostile to the new commercial space companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic — seeing them as a dangerous and competitive threat — I would have expected an effort by AIAA to influence Congress would mean they are trying to encourage funding for Big Space projects like the Space Launch System (SLS). In the past it has been these Big Space projects that has filled the coffers of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The contracts for these project have been cost-plus, meaning that they have been able to rake in a lot of cash, whether or not they even build anything.

To my joy Mr. Shweyk’s presentation described something completely different. Instead, the AIAA is gung-ho for commercial space, and is doing everything it can to encourage Congress to come up with the money to fund the efforts of new companies like SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, and Boeing to build new cheap cargo and manned ferrying spacecraft to low Earth orbit. The Space Launch System was not on their agenda. They had no interest in promoting it. Instead, they wanted money to go to the new efforts, so that more rockets and spaceships could be built by more companies, for less money.

For this organization, dominated as it is by the big and older aerospace companies, to push this agenda suggests to me that the culture truly has shifted, and that private space is definitely winning the political and cultural battle.

I had further proof of this during my evening keynote banquet lecture, in which I also tried to explain from a historical perspective the advantages of commercial private space. The audience was generally enthusiastic and interested. There was some skepticism expressed, but no hostility. Instead, the skepticism was merely an effort to better understand how the industry was changing, and where it was heading.

Had I attended the Space Hackers Conference, I am sure that I would have heard everyone talking about the importance and significance of private space. This really wouldn’t taught me anything, however, since everyone there is already a true believer. By going instead to this AIAA conference, however, I saw evidence that those who formerly had been doubters were now convinced. Private space, built on the concept of free competition, has apparently won the day.

With the AIAA backing private space to Congress, the days of big NASA projects like SLS, expensive and not very effective, appears to me to be very numbered.

Readers!
 

Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.
 

This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.
 

This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.
 

Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


 

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17 comments

  • D. K. Williams

    Woot!

  • Kelly Starks

    >..For this organization, dominated as it is by the big and older aerospace companies, to push this
    > agenda suggests to me that the culture truly has shifted, and that private space is definitely winning
    > the political and cultural battle. ..

    Actually they have been pushing this sort of thing for decades, and making very generous ibds if NASA would do it. I suspect thats why NASA continually fought the idea – even paying L/M once a extra billion to drop their effort to force it in. SpaceX’s high cost adns low quality compared to shuttle though helps poison that well.

  • Engineer

    Kelly wrote: “SpaceX’s high cost adns low quality compared to shuttle though helps poison that well.”

    High cost? Are you talking about development, or operations? Maybe you should read Appendix B of the Commercial Market Assessment for Crew and Cargo Systems (http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/543572main_Section%20403(b)%20Commercial%20Market%20Assessment%20Report%20Final.pdf)

    Also: http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/586023main_8-3-11_NAFCOM.pdf, and https://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/essays-and-commentaries/the-costs-of-space-cargo

  • I am stunned and pleasantly amazed that ‘private space’, something I’ve read about since I was a teenager, is happening. I think we’re almost at the point where teenagers casting about for a career will see space-based STEM occupations as a real option. Oh. to be sixteen again (minus the whole teenage angst thing).

  • Jay Jay

    As soon as Mr.Musk lands a F9 on its tail the SLS is going to be finished. Congress will however likely continue funding it until even the people building it call out the stupidity and waste of money.

    Still, SpaceX has many, many contracts on its books, when its fully and rapidly re-usable rocket strts fulfilling these contracts far, far faster than anyone had imagined… well the game will have changed forever.

    OldSpace still can’t quite beleive it though, just look at ESA getting ready for the next Arianne, will the first stange come back and land? No. Ergo it is doomed.

    Go Elon, go SpaceX. Nobody not even the most rabid pro-NewSpace evanglicals thought that they’d be making production versions of the deployable landing legs for F9 *already* they’re movig so fast they’re like a blur and for most of the World, the penny has yet to drop.

    Interesting article and very promising.

    Good luck to all!

  • Arnold Theisen

    ibds ? adns ? Engineering short-speak? I just checked; it’s not Tweetalk. I try to keep up with the latest language usage, even if I’m almost 70 (the new 50 I’ve been told). Maybe some one can give this old guy some help with these. :)

  • Arnold Theisen

    Jay Jay, I’m guessing you’ve seen the picture of the F-9R strut. I follow SpaceX often and was still impressed that they already have one undergoing test. I’m thinking that the Grasshopper trials are going extremely well; more so even than the meager info being made public. Elon, to his credit, is a voracious Tweeter. I wouldn’t mind having the money to afford a Tesla, but it would have to be a pick-up truck; got chores to do.

  • Kelly, whom I like and whom I also disagree with strongly on the subject of private space, sometimes gets his fingers tangled. “ibds” should be “bids”, while “adns” should actually be “high costs and low quality”.

    By the way, I suspect that Kelly might be one of only a handful of people left in the world who really believes this about SpaceX.

  • wodun

    “Not only will we be able to travel to the planets in a reasonable time, the constant Gs would overcome the medical problems caused by prolonged weightlessness.”

    Hmm

  • wodun

    “Not only will we be able to travel to the planets in a reasonable time, the constant Gs would overcome the medical problems caused by prolonged weightlessness.”

    Hmm.

  • wodun

    Well, that’s strange.

  • Kelly Starks

    >.. Are you talking about development, or operations?

    Total program cost per pound to ISS including dev, operations, adn fees. CBO SpaceX, etc numbers show that to be about 20% higher then for shuttle.

  • Kelly Starks

    Opps,
    Sorry – yes my typing sucks.

    As for the ..”only a handful of people”… historic record, and what I saw at NASA HQ in the office of space access at the time.
    ;)

  • Kelly Starks

    > As soon as Mr.Musk lands a F9 on its tail the SLS is going to be finished. ==

    Why? SpaceX can’t provide what SLS can, nor support misions and political necessities.

    >.. re-usable rocket strts fulfilling these contracts far, far faster than anyone had imagined…

    Rather irrelivent given the small market size. Thats why the old RLV proposals couldn’t get much interest.

    >.. OldSpace still can’t quite beleive it though, just look at ESA getting ready for the next Arianne, ==

    Arianne has a much more solid market position then SpaceX, and SpaceX is one competitor who can’t complain about Arianne being carried by gov funds.
    ;)

  • Kelly Starks

    In May 2011 Congress issued a report listing $850 million (more then the total dev cost of both Falcons and
    Dragon, according to SpaceX)
    congressional document
    “Commercial Cargo Will Cost More Than Shuttle-Delivered Cargo Says Congressional Document”
    http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/hearings
    /052611_Charter%20CommCargo.pdf
    SpaceX got
    $278 million for three demonstration flights of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon capsule,
    $258 million in milestone payments for completing 18 of 22 COTS milestones. Please see Appendix 1 for SpaceX’s schedule milestone chart.
    $185.6 million for milestones tied to four CRS missions
    $128 million toward additional risk reduction‖ milestones
    Or SpaceX had receaved $850 for COTS as of May 11 (NASA only spent $1.25B in total COTS!!)
    CCDev 2 awards
    $75 million as part of to develop a revolutionary launch escape system and SuperDraco engine (
    http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20110419 ; http://www.nasa.gov/offices/c3po/home/ccdev2award.html
    http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20120201)
    Now SpaceX’s press release 5-14-12 ( http://www.spacex.com/downloads/COTS-2-Press-Kit-5-14-12.pdf) on
    page 3 states “..To date, SpaceX has received $381 million for completing 37 out of 40 milestones..” Which is
    another $132 million since the above congressional report said them were paid $258m for 18 of 20 COTS
    milesstones. I.E. about $132m for the Dragon to ISS test flights.
    note http://spaceflightnow.com/falcon9/003/120518commercial/
    said “paid SpaceX $381 million in an agreement to help pay for the design, development, and testing of the
    Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.. SpaceX has spent $1.2 billion to date, including public and
    private capital.”
    They seem to be just refering to the COTS milestone payments, not all the other fees / Awards paid to spaceX for
    the development adn testing of the Falcon’s & Dragon’s, but whats interesting is the $1.2B number.
    Totaling up the above, SpaceX has received $1.057B total from NASA as of May 2012
    SpaceX money confusion — HELP! http://mail.aol.com/36478-111/aol-6/en-us/mail/PrintMessage.aspx
    1 of 2 6/30/12 11:26 AM
    Musk said total dev costs for Falcon and dragon were $800 M and the SpaceFlight now article says “SpaceX has
    spent $1.2 billion to date”, and Musks quoted as having invested $100m of his money in SpaceX. That implies
    hes only gotten about a $100M in investor money?
    They might actually have gotten a lot less then that given they must have gotten some money in advance fees
    from the launch contracts they got (Bellow) which I can’t sort out.
    So is this all SpaceX has gotten from the feds? Itcertainly doesn’t sound commercial!
    Am I missing something.
    Kelly
    http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/hearings

  • wodun

    But you can spell check with your browser, you don’t need to copy/paste then not edit your post for the extra returns. I read the Engrish fairly well but the extra returns throw me off.

    Says something about this topic when people think a typo might be some acronym that they don’t know about though, heh.

  • Robert Clark

    With SpaceX and now Orbital Sciences proving the drastic savings in development costs possible by commercial space, it will be become the predominate method of producing new spacecraft/launchers going forward.

    Bob Clark

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