US Capitol building

Two new bills before Congress seek to boost the commercial space industry.

The SOARS Act (HR 3038) is meant to stimulate suborbital and orbital human spaceflight, while the ASTEROIDS Act (HR 5063) focuses on deep space.

SOARS stands for Suborbital and Orbital Advancement and Regulatory Streamlining. The SOARS Act was introduced on 2 August 2013 by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), but it received little attention until December when Rep. McCarthy spoke about it during a meeting of the House Subcommitte on Space and Aeronautics.

McCarthy represents the district that includes Mojave Air and Space Port, while Posey’s district includes Cape Canaveral.

Posey is also sponsoring the ASTEROIDS Act, which stands for American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space. The bill was introduced this week by Posey and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA).

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Written by Astro1 on July 11th, 2014 , Commercial Space (General), Space Policy and Management

Orbital (free space) settlement under construction

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established rules that allowed settlers on the western frontier to form new states under the Articles of Confederation and, later, the Constitution of the United States. At that time, the “western frontier” meant Ohio. Today, the Northwest Ordinance is considered one of the most important pieces of legislation in US history.

Just over 200 years later, Representative (and future House Speaker) Newt Gingrich introduced a bill in Congress: House Resolution 4286, “The National Space and Aeronautics Policy Act of 1981.” One particularly interesting aspect of the bill was Title IV, inspired by the Northwest Odinance.

Title IV offered a framework for future space settlements to join the Union, first as territories, later as states — just as Ohio and other western settlements joined the Union in the 19th Century.

The bill had 13 co-sponsors, but it went nowhere in Congress and the idea of a “Northwest Ordinance for space” quietly disappeared (although Gingrich mentioned it again during his campaign for President in 2012).

This bill represents an early attempt to answer questions of governance in space, which will inevitably arise with the establishment of the first permanent space settlements later in this century.

Title IV — Government of Space Territories

Constitutional Protection

All persons residing in any community in space organized under the authority and flag of the United States shall be entitled to the protection of the Constitution of the United States.

Self Government

Whenever any such community shall have acquired twenty thousand
inhabitants, on giving due proof thereof to Congress, they shall receive from Congress authority with appointment of time a place to call a convention of representatives to establish a permanent constitution and government for themselves.

Admission to Statehood

Whenever any such community shall have as many inhabitants as
Shall then be in any one of the least numerous of the United States such community shall be admitted as a State into the Congress of the United States on equal footing with the original states.

Title IV could be seen to conflict with the Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits nations from making claims of national sovereignty on celestial bodies. So, modifications to the Treaty would be needed. It would need conflict, however, in the case of orbital or free-space settlements, such as those proposed by Professor Gerard K. O’Neill, which are not tied to the surface of a celestial body.

This is an example of the type of legislation Congress could pass which creates incentives for private enterprise to develop space, without costing the taxpayers any money. Unfortunately, Congress shows little interest in such far-sighted legislation today, and “space policy” centers around uninspiring questions such as which heavy-lift vehicle to build.

Written by Astro1 on April 17th, 2014 , Space Policy and Management, Space Settlement

Boeing / USAF X-37B

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Garretson asks whether the US Air Force will have a role in planetary defense and asteroid mining, in the March-April 2014 issue of Air and Space Power Journal.

Lieutenant Colonel Garretson and other Air Force strategists have repeatedly raised the topic of asteroid impacts over the years. Nevertheless, the Air Force has not adopted planetary defense as a formal mission:

Despite its potential severity, few Airmen seem to have an appetite for a subject not perceived as “real” war fighting and considered a “low-probability event.” An earlier cadre of Air Force Space Command advocates [submitted] a package to the Joint Requirements Oversight Council to establish a formal mission requirement. In accordance with the wisdom of the time, the council denied it. Let’s repeat that: no requirement to protect planet Earth exists.

To achieve an initial operational capability against asteroid threats, Garretson argues that the USAF should complete a survey of Near Earth Objects using a space-based telescope in a Venus-like orbit (estimated to cost about $500 million) and develop ready-to-launch reconnaissance probes (about $150 million each) and interceptor busses (about $250 million each).

Garretson also argues that the USAF should prepare for a world economy that expands outward into the solar system as companies like Planetary Resources begin to mine the asteroids:

Developing the requisite technology allows the Air Force to play a role similar to its function in aviation, whereby the service’s investment in jet engines and large aircraft catalyzed intercontinental air transport—a mode of transportation that now accounts for 35 percent of global trade by value. By retiring the risk for deep-space transportation and noncooperative capture and deflection, we not only would advance Air Force and US security equities in concert with pursuing a global public good, but also would lay the foundation for a revolution in space transportation and wealth generation.

If we wish to become the visionaries who lead America toward becoming a true spacefaring nation—one that survives such long-term existential threats as asteroids—then we must pursue not simply narrow military power. Just as Rear Adm Alfred Thayer Mahan set us on the right course in naval power and as Brig Gen William “Billy” Mitchell did so in airpower, we need to invest in general spacefaring and its supporting industry. The Air Force is missing the boat (or spacecraft). If the service truly wants to be America’s Space Force, it can’t shy away from this “growth industry” and what will likely become the most essential defense mission of a space force / space guard: planetary defense — the single mission that provides a deep-space requirement. To cede this requirement is to fall into the same precedent as the Army Air Corps, which conceived of airpower as nothing more than a supporting function for land power. A space force cannot just look downward; it must look outward to the source not only of danger but also of wealth and opportunity.

Written by Astro1 on April 6th, 2014 , Military Space, Planetary Defense, Space Policy and Management

Common wisdom says that space science must rely solely on the Federal government for funding. A new white paper from the International Institute of Space Commerce challenges that assumption.

The Institute has released “Innovative Models for Private Financing of Space Science Missions,” which is available as a free download.

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Written by Astro1 on September 24th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

A blogger by the name of M. Moleman, who calls himself “The Armchair Space Expert,” has published a cost analysis of NASA’s Space Launch System.

NASA Space Launch System

Moleman defends SLS against charges made by John Strickland, who believes it is unaffordable. Moleman’s conclusion is rather positive:

If we were to take SLS’s preliminary schedule of one cargo flight and one manned flight every other year, we get $1.2 billion for the cargo flight, and $2 billion for the manned one using Orion. A development cost of 12.6 billion dollars will have to be spread out over the total number of flights too, so if we use 30 flights like mister Strickland did we have to add $420 million to every flight. Over 30 flights, the average cost of SLS would be $2.02 billion per flight, though the number of cargo missions would probably end up dominating later on since most current Design Reference Missions would require more cargo then crewed flights. With a ratio of 2:1, we get a total of $1.89 billion per flight. If we take the costs of SLS only, not counting Orion, we get $1.6 billion per flight, which equals $18.000 per kilogram. Would this be expensive? Yes. Are there better alternatives out there? Absolutely. But it is nonetheless a huge improvement over the Space Shuttle, with payloads three to five times as big, much lower cost per kg to orbit, while eventually taking up less of the overall annual budget of NASA.

Unfortunately, his analysis contains a number of errors.

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Written by Astro1 on September 19th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

This week saw some good news for (and from) NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, which funds flights for payloads on various commercial platforms including microgravity aircraft and suborbital spacecraft.

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Written by Astro1 on August 1st, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Space Policy and Management

NASA Space Launch System

Dan Dumbacher of NASA and John Strickland of the National Space Society are having an argument over the Space Launch System. Unfortunately, both gentlemen are missing the point when it comes to space transportation.

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Written by Astro1 on July 30th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

The NASA Administrator will remain accountable to elected officials (and, indirectly, the American people), thanks to a bipartisan vote of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Space News reports that the committee voted 20-19 to accept an amendment offered by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), which removed language making the NASA Administrator a six-year appointed position. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), and Stephen Stockman (R-TX) joining with 17 Democrats to pass the amendment.

A fixed, six-year term would make it impossible for a President to remove a NASA Administrator for policy reasons. The language was introduced by Republican members who were angry over NASA attempts to cancel the Orion capsule and Space Launch System (née Ares V). It was intended to create greater “stability” by making it harder to cancel NASA programs.

Written by Astro1 on July 22nd, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

Zac Manchester with KickSat sprite satellite prototype

Make magazine has an article on 10 Maker Jobs That Didn’t Exist 10 Years Ago.

Only one of the jobs comes from space exploration / space development, and it isn’t from any of NASA’s megaprojects like Orion, SLS, or the James Webb Space Telescope.

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Written by Astro1 on July 6th, 2013 , Innovation, Space Policy and Management

A Russian Proton rocket carrying three Glonass navigation satellites failed quite dramatically on Monday:

The Russian space program has had quite a few failures recently. Nevertheless, the United States Congress seems more inclined to trust NASA’s astronauts to Roscosmos than to US companies like SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, and Boeing which have no experience in human spaceflight (unless you count the Space Shuttle, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the X-15, and US portions of the International Space Station — all of which were built by Boeing or heritage companies acquired by Boeing).

Congress has used safety concerns as an excuse to slow-march the Dragon, DreamChaser, and CST-100 programs. The Russian space program, however, is exempt from the requirements being imposed on US companies. The reasoning behind this double standard dis inexplicable.

Written by Astro1 on July 2nd, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

US military equipment in Iraq

The US military is scrapping $7 billion of equipment in Iraq because the cost of bringing it home exceeds the equipment’s value.

This should be a lesson for space development. A resource is not a resource unless you can afford to extract it and move it where it needs to go.

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Written by Astro1 on June 27th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III

Jim Hillhouse, the founder and editor of the Americaspace blog wrote:

We have a gov’t owned rocket rather than a commercial rocket for the same reason we don’t have United Airlines or FedEx as a replacement for the Air Mobility Command. It’s bad policy to hinge a national goal, in this case beyond Earth exploration, on the whims of commercial companies whose loyalties are to its shareholders, not the American people. You say that’s a problem. I disagree.

As it turns out, Mr. Hillhouse is ill-informed. The great bulk of US military logistics (over 80%) is performed by commercial carriers. The military even maintains a Civil Reserve Air Fleet program under which it can commandeer commercial aircraft in case of a national emergency. There are over 1300 airplanes in the CRAF.

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Written by Astro1 on June 17th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

Lt. Col. Dan Ward (USAF) has written an article on Lessons Defense Could Learn From NASA (specifically, the Faster, Better, Cheaper missions of he Goldin era).

NASA could also learn some lessons from itself.

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Written by Astro1 on June 7th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver surprised attendees (including some NASA employees) during her keynote address to the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference on Monday.

Garver, who addressed the conference via videolink due to travel restrictions, revealed changes to the NASA Flight Opportunities Program which buys rides for payloads on commercial suborbital spacecraft (as well as sounding rockets, balloons, and parabolic aircraft).

At present, the Flight Opportunities Program (run by the Office of the Chief Technologist) is limited to technology experiments, leaving science payloads out in the cold. Garver acknowledged that NASA “could do more” and promised a new joint solicitation, from the Space Technology Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate, that would cover both technology and science payloads.

Garver said NASA would hold a workshop at the Smallsat Conference in August to start educating the scientific community about opportunities to fly science payloads on suborbital flights.

The big surprise came when Garver said NASA does “not want to rule out paying for research that could be done by an individual spaceflight participant — a researcher or payload specialist — on these [suborbital] vehicles in the future.”

Until now, NASA has had a strict policy which prohibited the Flight Opportunities Program from paying for human-tended experiments on suborbital flights. This policy has frustrated many researchers who want to fly payloads on crewed vehicles such as the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two and XCOR Lynx.

The exact interpretation of Garver’s words is still a mystery. Not ruling something out does not necessarily imply that it will be allowed. “In the future” is a vague timeframe. There’s also the question of whether “paying for research… done by an individual spaceflight participant” includes paying to fly the individual’s ride as well. The NASA Flight Opportunities people were as surprised and confused as anyone, since they were not briefed on the policy change or Garver’s remarks beforehand. There was cautious optimism, however, among conference attendees.

Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Policy and Management

Claude Frédéric Bastiat (left) and the Moon (right)

In his pamphlet The Law, French political theorist Claude Frédéric Bastiat wrote:

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

Those words, written in 1850, could easily describe the space-policy debates of today.

When NASA says it isn’t going to build a mining settlement on the Moon, members of Congress (and the media) conclude that NASA is against anyone going to the Moon.

When NASA tried to cancel the Ares V Space Launch System, they said NASA was against any space-launch capability.

If anything is to be done in space, they think it must be done by government.

Written by Astro1 on May 31st, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

California State Senator Steven Knight (the son of X-15 pilot Pete Knight) has introduced a bill that grants a sales-tax exemption for spaceflight equipment and materials.

Senate Bill 19, the Space Flight Sales Tax Exemption Act, provides an exemption for “the gross receipts from the sale of, and the storage, use, or other consumption of, qualified property for use in space flight.”

The exemption also includes “equipment and materials used to construct, reconstruct, or improve new or existing facilities designed to operate, launch, manufacture, fabricate, assemble, or process equipment that facilitates the renovation, rehabilitation, or reconstruction of commercial space launch sites.”

The bill, which has been endorsed by the American Insitute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is intended to improve California’s business requirement, which has caused companies such as Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems and XCOR Aerospace to leave California. Whether it will be sufficient remains to be seen.

Written by Astro1 on May 26th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management, Spaceports

U.S. Air Force 920th Rescue Wing in NASA Orion space capsule recovery exercise

Jeff Foust just tweeted this from the International Space Development Conference in San Diego:

Aldrin on capsule splashdowns: just because Elon loves salt water doesn’t mean thats’s the way spacecraft should return from space.

That is a bit unfair, since Elon Musk is developing technology to land future versions of his Dragon capsule on land — perhaps because of his experience with salt water. We suspect that Aldrin was twitting Musk and trying to draw a rise out of the audience.

Yet, he does have a point, as the United States government continues to spend billions of dollars to develop the Orion capsule, duplicating capabilities NASA had in the 1960′s. Meanwhile, the Dream Chaser spaceplane, based on 30 years of NASA and Soviet research, is in danger of cancelation even as it continues to advance toward flight test. It’s as if the Congress is determined to freeze the development of human spaceflight capabilities at 1960′s levels.

Every member of Congress who has a NASA center in his district seems to think that makes him an expert on space technology. Fortunately, their opinions may not be relevant much longer. The sooner we take human spaceflight out of the hands of politicians, the better.

Written by Astro1 on May 25th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

The failure of multiple experiments on the Russian Bion M biosatellite mission shows the limitations of automation.

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Written by Astro1 on May 21st, 2013 , Astrobiology, Space Policy and Management Tags:

Russian Soyuz rocket launchSome things have not changed since the end of the Cold War. Russia is still making the mistake of believing its own propaganda.

A new article by Alexei Lyakhov and Artyom Kobzev proclaims, “Russia Has No Rivals in Space Tourism.” The article was published by the Voice of Russia, the international radio service of the All Russia State Radio and Television company.

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Written by Astro1 on May 7th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

NASA Administrator Major General Charles Bolden (USMC-ret.)

NASA Administrator Major General Charles Bolden says he will have to make cuts to NASA’s “Commercial Resupply Services” contract, Aviation Week reports.

NASA has awarded CRS contracts to Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corporation for 12 and 8 cargo missions, valuaed at $1.6 billion and $1.9 billion, respectively.

On April 25, General Bolden told the Senate Appropriations Committee, “I’ll have to renegotiate those contracts. We won’t fly the number of missions that we have. Right now we’re flying 20 commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station over the next five years for three-point-some-odd billion dollars, an incredible value to the nation. I can’t carry that out under sequester.”

It’s hard to see how the proposed renegotiation would save money, however. The International Space Station needs a certain number of cargo flights to operate. There are some optional science experiments, but science aboard ISS is already severely restricted and it’s hard to see how it could be cut much further.

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Written by Astro1 on April 30th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Dragon capsule captured for berthing at the International Space Station (ISS)

NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Development (CCDev) program keeps getting smaller all the time.

Last June, Congress forced a “compromise” on NASA, which was more like a surrender. Under this “compromise,” NASA was forced to reduce the number of companies in the CCDev competition from five to three. The third company (Sierra Nevada) received a much smaller amount of funding than the primary competitors (SpaceX and Boeing), so the current field is often referred to as “two-and-a-half competitors.”

Now, it appears the field is about to shrink further. At a hearing on March 20, NASA Administrator Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden told Congress, “We intend to put a request for proposal on the street this summer and you will probably get a downselect.” The losers will be kept hanging for a while, however. “You won’t see the selection announced until the middle of next year, 2014,” Bolden said.

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Written by Astro1 on April 9th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

The Federal Communications Commission has issued a Public Notice to help commercial space companies obtain use of communications frequencies for launch, operations, and reentry. Unfortunately, the FCC requirements don’t seem to meet the needs of high-rate launch operations that are expected in the near future.

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Written by Astro1 on March 16th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Space Policy and Management

cowboy, horse, and spaceship

Several pieces of legislation affecting commercial spaceflight are on the docket of the Texas legislature this session.

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Written by Astro1 on March 6th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Space Policy and Management Tags:

SpaceX Dragon capsule berthing at the International Space Station

Space Exploration Technologies launched another Dragon capsule this morning, heading for the International Space Station. The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket was perfect, but the Dragon capsule has experienced some anomalies. SpaceX mission controllers have had trouble getting some of the thrusters online.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk explained the problem in a message to his Twitter followers: “Issue with Dragon thruster pods. System inhibiting three of four from initializing. About to command inhibit override.”

SpaceX now reports that vital signs on a second thruster pod are “trending positive.” When SpaceX has at least two pods restored, it will begin manuevering the capsule toward the space station. The loss of some thrusters could result a later-than-planned arrival at the space station. In the worst case, if SpaceX can’t get the second thruster pod working, the mission could be a total loss.

Some people have said that Dragon flights are becoming “routine,” but spaceflight will never be routine until we have reusable vehicles.

Expendable rocket and capsule: “We have a problem with our thrusters and can’t dock with the space station. Looks like we’ll have to abort the mission, lose the vehicle, the payload, and the $100 million customer payment. Space-station crew won’t have clean underwear for another three months. Life is tough.”

Reusable spacecraft: “We have a problem with our thrusters and can’t dock with the space station. Looks like we’ll have to return to base, call in the mechanics, and fly the mission again tomorrow. Space-station crew won’t have fresh sushi for another night. Life is tough.”

Because they don’t throw away expensive hardware, reusable vehicles can also afford more testing and redundancy. So, anomalies are less likely to occur and better tolerated when they do occur. For the most common failures, reusable vehicles are not only “fail safe” but “fail operational.” Most airline passengers are unaware of how often airliners suffer equipment failures in flight. Airliners have enough redundancy that when a piece of hardware fails, the pilots simply shut it down and report the failure to mechanics when the plane lands. Spaceflight needs to evolve to the same point.

Again, we’re just saying.

Written by Astro1 on March 1st, 2013 , Space Policy and Management, SpaceX