Space Access Update #103  4/15/04 
                 Copyright 2004 by Space Access Society 

Do not hit "reply" to email us - it'll be buried in tides of spam, and 
we may not see it for weeks.  Use 

Things just won't stop happening, and we've had a conference to put 
together to boot.  In pre-conference tax-season haste...  By the way, 
the latest info on Space Access '04, April 22-24 in Phoenix Arizona, is 
at  (Look for a 
detailed conference schedule later this weekend.) 

Contents this issue:

 - RLV News Roundup                                       

 - NASA Moon, Mars & Beyond: Thoughts On Doing It Right


                          RLV News Roundup 

 - Scaled Composites received the first ever FAA AST license to operate 
a piloted suborbital reusable rocket last week, and almost immediately 
put it to use, test flying SpaceShip One to 105,000 feet.  

We applaud FAA AST's decision to issue the license; it can't have been 
easy.  They are breaking new ground with every move they make in this 
field, and the temptation to play it safe by delaying and trying to 
reduce the remaining uncertainties a bit further must be strong.  Some 
level of residual uncertainty is inevitable no matter how long is taken, 
however, and delay beyond a certain point is damaging - we're glad to 
see AST striking a reasonable balance. 

 - XCOR Aerospace's FAA license clock continues to tick, meanwhile.  We 
understand the 180-day period during which the FAA must either issue a 
license or identify problems justifying delay comes to a close April 
23rd.  XCOR won't say more than that the process continues, so far so 
good, while the FAA won't say much of anything at all.  We're keeping 
our fingers crossed - we'd really like to see the license granted on 
schedule.  Aside from the fact that it'd be a big help to XCOR in 
generating investment, and a further boost to this fragile new 
industry's credibility in general, Friday April 23rd is the middle day 
of this year's Space Access '04 conference, and it'd be really cool to 
see the license delivered there.  We're not ordering a cake for the 
celebration yet, though; this one remains wait-and-see. 

 - Armadillo Aerospace has been making rapid progress on flyable engines 
and is on the verge of beginning flight test of their X-Prize vehicle.  
We'd have to handicap them as somewhat behind Scaled Composites for the 
moment, but they are definitely in the race. 

 - SpaceX seems to be on track to fly their Falcon recoverable low-cost 
launcher in the coming months - behind the original published schedule, 
but nevertheless remarkably fast.  This reminds us of a tendency we've 
seen of internet people coming over to the rocket business bringing 
along some of their software industry habits - in this case, we suspect 
we might be seeing the venerable technique of setting an impossible 
schedule to motivate the troops to meet a merely improbable one. 

SpaceX over the last year seems to have moved away from another internet 
industry habit, obsessive secrecy - the SpaceX website these days has a 
fair amount of information about their technical approach and progress.  
Our take on this: Secrecy often makes sense for internet projects, where 
the good idea is everything - given the idea, any number of teams can be 
found to implement it.  The rocket business is different - there are 
lots of good ideas (a myriad bad ones, mind) and the hard part is 
putting together a team actually capable of turning one good idea into 
practical hardware.  Secrecy is far less important, and can actually be 
damaging if it prevents the development team from pulling in needed 
knowledge from outside.  

 - Which brings us to Blue Origin, which still doesn't have much to say 
to the outside world beyond that they're working on reusable rockets,
and that they're still (reading between the lines) trying to get the 
team right.  Our advice: Open up a bit, talk to people, go to the 
occasional conference (like ours), and you'll end up gaining much more 
than you give up.  This industry still has far more good ideas floating 
around than it does people competent to make them real, and such people 
tend to be already pursuing their own preferred approach.

 - And we'll wind up with a bit of news that startled us - Mike Kelly 
tells us that he has no further connection of any sort to Kelly Space & 
Technology.  He says he's staying in the space business, but he won't 
talk yet about what he's up to these days, beyond continuing as Chairman 
of the COMSTAC RLV Working Group, an advisory group to FAA. 


          NASA Moon, Mars & Beyond: Thoughts On Doing It Right 

We've been uncertain what to call this new NASA initiative; the official 
name is too bland and nondescriptive for words.  The Aldrich Commission 
website however calls it "Moon, Mars, & Beyond", which strikes us as 
both memorable and straightforwardly descriptive; we propose to use this
(MM&B for short) from now on.  With luck, if enough of us adopt this, 
NASA will eventually follow.

Moon, Mars, & Beyond, as we pointed out last Update, depends utterly on 
major reform and restructuring of NASA for any chance of success.  
Attempting to pursue MM&B without fundamentally changing the agency that 
brought us Shuttle, Station, and X-33 won't fly, for a number of 
reasons: Old NASA would not be able to do the job at anywhere near a 
sustainable budget.  Congress would (rightly) not trust Old NASA to so 
deliver, and thus wouldn't fund the program.  And absent reform, we and 
many others would actively push Congress not to fund the program. 

That said, we are making a leap of faith:  In light of the strong 
indications we see that this Administration is making a real attempt to 
reform NASA back into national usefulness and resume the outward 
expansion interrupted post-Apollo, Space Access Society supports the 
full NASA MM&B funding request this year.  We urge our colleagues to do 

The key phrase is "this year".  We also see strong indications that the 
old NASA establishment won't go away without a fight.  We expect that it 
won't be obvious who's winning the reform battle till long after this 
summer's budget process is done.  (One example: The major push already 
underway to hastily commit to a new Shuttle-Derived heavy-lift launch 
vehicle as the basis for MM&B.  This strikes us as a not-very-stealthy 
NASA Old Guard Perpetual Control & Full Employment program.) 

We reserve the right to reverse our support for MM&B funding next year 
or thereafter if we see the NASA reform process failing and business as 
usual winning out.  Make no mistake, if this thing looks like turning 
into another billions-down-a-rathole boondoggle, we'll work to kill it. 

But it might actually work.  Reform might win.  We urge you all to 
support full funding for NASA MM&B this year. 

 - So What Is "Reform"? 

As for what we think would constitute signs of successful reform, it's a 
bit early to set detailed litmus tests, but we do have a few general 
ideas.  (We've noticed a strong tendency for debate within our community 
to degenerate into wrangles over technical trivia - we recommend 
concentrating on broad top-level policy - get that right and the 
technical trivia will take care of itself.) 

Most fundamentally, we've come to the conclusion that the MM&B goal of a 
permanent Lunar presence robust enough to support further outward 
exploration is impossible, unless NASA reduces transportation costs to 
low earth orbit (LEO) considerably beyond the factor of two-to-three the 
switch from Shuttle to EELV should provide.  The program might make it 
through initial Lunar visits, but the EELV launch costs for the total 
LEO tonnage needed to support a usefully large Lunar base would most 
likely trim any permanent presence to token size, if not kill it (and 
further outward exploration) entirely, once Congress saw the bill. 

We have essentially zero faith in NASA's ability to develop in-house the 
several-times-cheaper-than-EELV transport to LEO needed for the long 
term.  NASA's record of failure in reducing launch cost is too long and 
the reasons for the failures too fundamental.  (Quibble us no quibbles 
about traditional NASA-directed developments via the usual captive 
contractors not technically being "in-house".) 

We conclude that it is essential to the success of MM&B that NASA put 
the entire first leg of the voyage, Earth to LEO, out to genuine 
competitive commercial bid, that they do so with specific funded 
provisions to encourage entry of new and innovative low-cost 
competitors, and that their planning for MM&B include from the start the 
potential for significantly lower cost commercial Earth-LEO 
transportation and on-orbit operations. 

(One illustration: The minimum chemical-rocket propellant fraction for a 
trip from LEO to the Moon is about 75%, before any provision for return.  
In other words soft-landing 25 tons on the Lunar surface requires 
launching that 25 tons plus 75 tons of propellant to LEO.  Assume all 
goes up to LEO on four EELV-Heavys, and your launch cost is around 
$600m, give or take.  OK, for the sake of argument, put NASA's 25 tons 
up on an EELV-H but put the propellant up on three commercial Protons 
[We hear as low as $50 million each, contracted for by a good haggler] 
and you've just halved those launch costs...  And Proton is neither the 
cheapest nor the only possibility; it's just a known available benchmark 
for MM&B planning purposes.  Propellant is fungible - it doesn't matter 
how it reaches LEO, as long as it's there when an expedition needs it.  
Given the long leadtime before the first CEV is supposed to head out 
from LEO, applying some mix of prizes, concept demonstration contracts, 
and market guarantees could gain MM&B a huge operations asset in the 
form of cheap bulk propellant on-orbit.) 

In general, if NASA opens up the Earth-LEO leg of MM&B to genuine 
innovative commercial competiton, if they put some serious funding over 
the next few years into encouraging advances in getting to orbit and on-
orbit operations and incorporate these advances into their planning, 
we'll likely be inclined to continue strongly supporting the effort. 

One of our colleagues has pointed out that a future NASA we're not sure 
of beats the hell out of the old NASA we'd come to have no doubt 
whatsoever about.  It's going to be an interesting next few years. 

Space Access Society's sole purpose is to promote radical reductions 
in the cost of reaching space.  You may redistribute this Update in 
any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety.
You may reproduce sections of this Update beyond obvious "fair use" 
quotes if you credit the source and include a pointer to our website.

 Space Access Society 

 "Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System" 
                                        - Robert A. Heinlein