Monday, May 3, 2010

NewSpace Players in the Highest Game

With President Obama's new vision of space exploration laid out, although by no means final, it's important to note some of the main players in the game. After all, with so much riding on NewSpace (Commercial Space), these companies might be headliners very, very soon.

Virgin Galactic is probably one of the best known NewSpace companies with its sights set on catering to the public more than to the government. Now yes, I'm sure SpaceX wants to get into that game as well, but they're taking the government path, which may or may not be a good idea. That really depends on how the dominoes fall over the next few years, and whether or not SpaceX turns into Boeing or Lockheed...a government contractor. I lump Orbital Sciences into this mix as well, since for the most part they already are a government contractor in most respects.

But one must also remember that there are more players in the game than just the ones who currently grab the media spotlight. Armadillo Aerospace seems to have just locked down a deal with Space Adventures that hopes offer a sub-orbital ride at half the cost of Virgin Galactic. We shall see. I'm hopeful and curious to see how this unfolds.

It's hard to mention Armadillo without mentioning Masten Space Systems, who beat out Armadillo for the $1 million dollar prize in the 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge. Now Masten seems to be more focused on payloads than people right now, but I don't see them stopping short of the human launch goal.

Then you have Blue Origin, whose work seems to be more classified than the X-37b that was recently launched by the Air Force. Jeff Bezos seems to like keeping things hush hush, which could be a good idea. At least then when you test something and it fails, the media doesn't get all reactionary and all the pundits against NewSpace can't step up and spout off like idiots. It seems people forget that testing can and does result in failure, but the media just doesn't get that. Bunch of non-contributing zero non-scientists. :)

Now don't forget about XCOR, when back in December of 2009, the South Korean Space Center selected XCOR's Lynx for suborbital operation. They are moving hot and heavy on getting their craft up and running, and firing off thrill seeking people to the edge of space.

And to top things off (but this is by no means ALL of the companies, just those that I consider to be the biggest players) is Bigelow Aerospace. No, they aren't a launcher, but they will provide a destination. It would be kind of difficult to justify so many NewSpace launcher companies if they didn't have somewhere to go, and Bigelow is current the front runner in providing habitats in space, either orbiting in LEO, placed in GEO, stuck in a Lagrangian Point, or part of a Lunar Base infrastructure. Bigelow has a lot of options, especially once more of these NewSpace Heavy Lift options come online.

So as you can see, the game is in full swing. For the first time in human history, at least in my informed opinion, there is a light at the end of the tunnel that has restricted space travel to the select few as appointed by government. That light is NewSpace, and they are ramping up right before our eyes. What an exciting time we live in, because as far as I'm concerned, space exploration is a key variable in the equation for human advancement. Ad Astra was never a more valid term than today.

Let the games begin.


Norman Copeland said...

Obviously with spaceport america still being completed, though schedule suggest that perhaps another 5 years for completion is necessary to accomadate, ground costs are decisive with how things work out, as you've said most companies are being granted funding and continue to prop real commercial interest, and some others are private companies offering very real services that are a definate business plan function.

The governor of new mexico is very happy that the expanse of land offers a huge potential for city contruction and growth very much dependant on it's excellent retrograde facilities and climotology.

The diplomatic climate favours the dollar here...

Anonymous said...

Nice article.

I too cannot wait for one of these companies to take off, and to get this country cheering again for space flight. In a way, NewSpace has already started, with the first test flight of SpaceShipTwo in March. SpaceX's Falcon 1 is sitting on the launchpad as we speak,preparing for its inaugural launch in 7 days.

So the pieces are set... Let us hope these startup companies progress safely and successfully.

Godspeed NewSpace!

The Freeman said...

Well said.

I'm in agreement that the NewSpace breed of corporations will be the major stepping stone to helping us achieve our goals in space. It's nice to see the list of companies growing as well.

Of all the companies you mentioned, the only one I have a problem with is Bigelow, because the unless anything has changed since the last article I've read about them, their hiring policy is terrible. They've limited themselves by only hiring American citizen, and so far as I can tell, those citizens can't be immigrants. What a way to reduce your chances of recruiting the best and brightest!

Hopefully that's a trend that won't hamper them too much, since the habitation products they're developing seem to be the way of the future.

Let's open doors. Explore said...

How very trite. Commercial Space will only profit those willing to take a gamble. You think Sir Richard Branson is going to be conductin Billion Dollar science missions? Really? I'd like him to drink his own piss for a 6 month trial so he can develop a recyling system for poor people on Earth. No, not to SELL to them - but to GIVE them. Why then, would he charge $100K for a sub-orbit joyride?

How foolish....and to think we have someone this brainwashed at

Douglas Mallette said...

Let's open doors. Explore - First, your attitude sucks. Try being a bit more polite, even if you disagree. It will serve you better in life.

Second, I don't work for NASA. I work for a subcontractor, but not NASA directly.

Now with that out of the way -- Commercial space will profit by bringing down the cost drastically over all levels, which is good for everyone in this system. No, Branson will not fund billion dollar science missions...that's not his market. He mainly wants to give people sub-orbital experiences, but he might entertain going to the next level I'm sure. Time will tell.

Now SpaceX might work in this arena, but they won't be developing the billion dollar science missions, science organizations will pay them a small fee to get their stuff to orbit. Hence the whole "pay for transport" model.

We already have recycling systems for poor people in 3rd world nations, but you did hit the nail on the head regarding the money issue.

Don't forget that I am a member of the Venus Project, an organization that hates the monetary system and favors a complete restructure of the global socioeconomic system such that technology is used to better ALL of humanity, help restore Earth to nature, and advance humanity past its current destructive cycle.

So before you insult me, jackass, make sure you read more than just ONE article on my blog. It will be pretty obvious where I stand.

There, now we're equal in being rude. There is balance. Shall we start again more respectfully?

Norman Copeland said...

Perhaps ''lets open doors.Explore'' Has considered the next universe hiding behind Virgo?

Sort of parrallel to Procyon.

Business opportunities await for those prepared to put there hard work in.

Norman Copeland.

Marcel F. Williams said...

I'm glad President Obama is giving private industry $1.2 billion a year to develop their own manned space flight capability. But I'm not too happy that he's giving NASA $100 billion over the next five years to build nothing and to go nowhere. Of course, we waste that kind of money every year in Iraq, building nothing and going nowhere so maybe its not a big deal:-)

Anonymous said...

"SpaceX's Falcon 1 is sitting on the launchpad as we speak,preparing for its inaugural launch in 7 days."

Don't hold your breath, the lengthy FTS qual testing they subcontracted out for Falcon 9 is still going on. It then still needs to go by SpaceX and then the 45th before a final flight approval is given. They are now requesting May 23, but will probably slip to past June due to STS-132 landing and a 48 hour range turn-around.

Douglas Mallette said...

Marcel - I totally agree. I've talked before about how I think this should have played out.

NewSpace gets LEO ops. Privatize U.S. segment of the ISS, like a rental property. NASA establishes translunar infrastructure (fuel depots) and Lunar base to facilitate operations and studies for eventual Mars trips, in cooperation with NewSpace and International space agencies (including China).

NewSpace benefits. NASA has a solid and profound goal. It's a global effort and we help use space to strengthen political ties between "opposing" nations, just like what we did with Russia.

Douglas Mallette said...

The Freeman - I'm thinking Bigelow is hamstrung by ITAR. I think SpaceX and many of the companies are also. Virgin Galactic is already international, so I bet they have different rules because the United States gave them permission to do operations here, so their hiring practices might be slightly different.

You must remember, the U.S. government is paranoid about ANYTHING space related, fearing it as a national defense issue. So these space companies are severely limited by ITAR, which not only affects technology, hardware and information sharing abroad, but also the hiring of non-U.S. citizens.

I hate ITAR for this reason, among others. You're right, it greatly reduces the potential pool of great brain power, but such is the nature of a paranoid government who is fine with militarizing space (X37B comes to mind), but thinks everyone else wants to do the same thing too.

Eventually this must stop, else we're not going anywhere as a species.

Norman Copeland said...

Today Britain starts a new coalition government.

Conservatism and Liberal democrats.

Good day kind sirs/madams

Norman Copeland.