Monday, December 14, 2009

The Revolution is Coming -- Try and Stop It

The revolution is coming, the NewSpace Revolution. Last week marked the unveiling of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, the newest craft designed for the sole purpose of commercial space. Now, there are those who will argue that Virgin Galactic is not going to space, because by their definition, if it doesn't orbit the planet, it's not real space travel.

I think some would disagree, like the World Air Sports Federation (FAI), which sets the altitude at a simple and fixed 100km. You break that altitude, then you're in space. NASA has adopted this fixed altitude as well, and no where in the definition does it say how long you have to be up there, or whether or not orbiting makes the point more valid. Suffice to say, many of the people complaining are also the same ones who are against the commercial development of space. No surprise.

And now we come to today, when SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) has announced that not only is it conducting training with bonafide astronauts on its Dragon system, which is their capsule craft designed to rendezvous with the ISS and any other orbiting platform, but that it plans to be up and running to support crew shifts for the ISS between May and November of 2010.

Notice I said up and running, not developing and testing. With Ares still undergoing good old fashioned NASA testing and development, which as we all know is a wonderfully streamlined and delay free process, SpaceX is stepping up to the plate with the full intent to knock the ball out of the park. Now, I can hear the bickering already, "Falcon 9 hasn't even launched. SpaceX is being pre-mature. This is a PR stunt. No way they'll be ready by then. Falcon 9 is much more complex than Falcon 1, and they screwed up Falcon 1 three times before it worked." Blah, blah, blah.

The core systems between Falcon 1 and 9 are the same. The trick, which is genuine, is to make sure all 9 engines run properly at the same time. The issues related to Falcon 1 all represent learning and growth in understanding of new systems. Last I checked, new rocket systems don't always perform perfectly the first time. What's unique here is that SpaceX achieved success in a very short time at a fraction of the cost when compared to government programs. That's the difference, achieving the same results at a lower cost, which is what commercial space provides us all.

Couple this with Masten Space Systems winning the Northrup Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, Armadillo Aerospace coming in a close and respectable second in the same competition, and other NewSpace players making strides of their own, and it's becoming apparent that NewSpace is not a fleeting movement.

Do you hear that? That's the drum beat of revolution, and it will be a benefit to us all.


Anonymous said...

We're living in exciting times for space.

Of course I thought it was exciting times back during Apollo. I was too young and naive to see how government could futz a good thing up.

But now we have these great commercial space ventures. I can't wait to see these taking flight. I just hope government won't futz this up too.

Think it's time for me to write some more letters to some politicians.

Douglas, thanks for being such a great space advocate. It gives me hope that our government will see the light of day...or better yet the light of an earthrise. Keep up the good fight. With many voices we will be heard.

Anonymous said...

lol...forgot to sign my earlier comment.'s from David.

Shanksow said...

I'm looking forward to it.

Bartacus said...

I've been an enthusiast for commercial space, but I've also had to learn to exercise a LOT of patience when it comes to setting expectations and timelines. The revolution will be more like a slow rising of the tide.

Marcel F. Williams said...

One of the major roles of NASA, IMO, should be to help foster the development of private commercial manned space flight-- as long as it doesn't make these private companies dependent on tax payer dollars in order for them to survive.

The Russians have halted space tourism to the ISS because of lack of room aboard the space station. If NASA currently had a heavy lift vehicle, then multiple Skylab-like space stations could be placed in convenient orbits and leased out to private companies that want to bring tourist into space.

If I were NASA, I'd charge them about a $1 million per passenger for a 10 day stay which is not much compared to the $20 million to $35 million a tourist has to pay to ride into space aboard a Russian rocket.

If a commercial operation took 4 tourist to a NASA space station, that would be $6 million per ten days (4 passengers plus the two pilots). That's $18 million per month, over $200 million a year for NASA if the demand was that high. So they could easily pay off a $1 billion minimal technology space station in just 5 years.

It is estimated that 7% of millionaires in the US would be willing to pay for a ride into space. There are 2.5 million millionaires in the US. So 175,000 millionaires would be willing to pay to travel into space. However, probably 10% of that number could actually afford the high price. So that would mean only 18,000 millionaires would be willing to pay the price. So even if only 10% of that number wanted to travel into space every year, that would be only 1800 paying passengers in the US alone. There are 8.6 million millionaires in the whole world!

Private industry and NASA could make a fortune!

QuantumG said...

Hopefully Falcon 9 will fly on time in Feb 2010 and we'll see a perfect test flight.

Norman Copeland said...

Hello douglas and audience...

I personally percieve our planet to be in space and thus we are in space. That fact accounts for space sickness's which are developed inside our atmosphere because of changing thermodynamics.

Accounting for public perception, space is probably associated with weightlessness and lesser earth gravity environments. So, if you do the sums, people presume an earth like gravity to be on planet...

Bartacus, perhaps America's manned space programme is an indication of the moon's tide?


A revolution... An indication of a circular turn...

Have a nice day...

Douglas Mallette said...

David - Thanks!

Bartacus - Only if we sit back and remain passive. If we stand up and demand/elect the proper people, we'll see growth like never before. We can't be lazy and passive though.

Marcel - Nice statistical breakdown. Someone should show that to NASA, but I bet they wouldn't care. Commercial Space would care though. :)

QuantumG - If the Air Force doesn't once again screw with SpaceX an adjust requirements in mid stream, I think they will go off without a hitch. I really do.

Norman - We should have drinks one day, cuz if you're this nuts on a blag, you must be a riot when intoxicated. lol.