Space Access Update #102  2/9/04 
               Copyright 2004 by Space Access Society 

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Things just won't stand still.  Last time we got one of these out 
the door, we promised "..more on the current state of play in the 
emerging cheap-access industry in late December..."  We got 
distracted nailing down a hotel for our upcoming Space Access'04 
conference (April 22-24 at the Ramada Hotel Phoenix Downtown, see for details.)  
Then the President came out with what's beginning to look like a 
fairly radical new space exploration policy.  Then just as we were 
starting to get a handle on that, HR 3245 (mainly about commercial 
manned launch licensing) emerged from Committee markup as the 
significantly different HR 3752.  We give up!  We're going to do a 
quick data dump here and get back to you on what we think it all 
means later this month.  Honest! 

Short Notice Department: There is an FAA Space Transportation 
Conference in DC this Tuesday and Wednesday Feb 10-11, followed by a 
Launch Site License Workshop this Thursday Feb 12.  If you're 
thinking about how useful it'd be to have a spaceport in your state, 
catch this one. 

Contents this issue:

 - RLV News Roundup                                       

 - The New White House NASA Policy: Initial Impressions 

 - HR 3752, "The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004" 


                          RLV News Roundup 

In no particular order...

 - Pioneer Rocketplane's Rocketplane XP development is now funded, 
via an Oklahoma space business development incentive that matches 
Pioneer's $10m in assets with $30m in Oklahoma state tax credit 
investment support.  Mitch Clapp tells us that "Rocketplane XP" will 
be a rewinged Lear 24 with a rocket motor added, that the flight 
profile is low-stress enough to allow steel TPS, that the payload 
will be 900 pounds to 100 km, that commercial missions are planned, 
that they've hired David Urie (former head of and ubiquitous 
salesman for Lockheed-Martin's X-33 project) as chief engineer, and 
that the schedule still calls for first flight 32 months after full 
funding, which would put it in fall of '06.  See for more. 

 - XCOR Aerospace's application for a suborbital RLV launch license 
was declared "sufficiently complete" by FAA AST back in November, 
the first such ever, which puts XCOR now about halfway through the 
180 days AST then has to either approve the license or come back 
with problems needing fixing.  XCOR's comment on the process's 
progress is a cautious "so far, so good".  Jeff Greason tells us 
this license application is not for the full Xerus suborbital 
vehicle described on their website, but rather for something 
intermediate between EZ-Rocket and Xerus.  No further vehicle 
details are public for now, though we speculate it might be built 
around two to four of the 1800 lb thrust engines XCOR recently began 
to test.  Jeff will be running an informal workshop on his 
experiences with the FAA AST licensing process at Space Access'04; 
stay tuned for details.  See for more. 

 - We hear that Scaled Composites also has had a launch license 
application for their SpaceShipOne X-Prize contender declared 
"sufficiently complete"; the fact was mentioned at a public AST 
meeting, but seems to have received much less publicity.  
SpaceShipOne's first powered flight back on December 17th was 
conducted, we understand, under the FAA's high-power amateur 
rocketry burn duration and total impulse limits; hence the fifteen-
second total motor firing duration.  Test flights higher and faster 
will require either a license or some sort of FAA waiver; we await 
developments with interest.  See for more. 

 - Armadillo Aerospace also is just about ready to start low-
altitude flight test of their X-Prize vehicle design - see for their weekly development 
engineering reports.

 - X-Prize looks like being a real race - there are 26 official 
teams registered for the competition, and our educated guess is that 
a half dozen of these (give or take) have a shot at being ready to 
fly an attempt before the year is out.  The X-Prize clock is, of 
course, ticking; the insurance company that put up the $10 million 
prize money against X-Prize's $5 million in assets wins the bet if 
nobody has succeeded by the end of 2004.  See 
for more. 

 - JP Aerospace has a USAF contract to build a 175' by 45' version 
of their "Ascender" V-shaped lighter-than-air high-altitude lifter, 
a followon to the 90' version they built last year.  The vehicle was 
described as 80% complete as of early January, with tests to 100,000 
feet planned in the near future.  We'd guess USAF is looking for a 
platform to carry surveillance and communications gear; JP's goal 
for the design involves eventually using it to conduct space 
launches from above most of the atmosphere.  See for more. 

 - HARC in Alabama announced last fall that they're working on an 
ocean-launched X-Prize contender.  HARC had some success a few years 
back at launching hybrid sounding rockets from high-altitude 
balloons.  We don't have much detail yet, but we do know some of the 
people involved and we take them seriously.  See for more. 

 - We're told that TGV Rockets got themselves a couple million in 
federal funding starting back in October.  Pat Bahn tells us that 
design work on TGV's Michelle B suborbital reusable crewed payload 
lifter is underway.  See for more.

This is by no means comprehensive coverage of the field; it's a 
hasty survey of some recent high points we happen to be aware of.  
There is a LOT going on in the new space business these days.  One 
site we recommend for ongoing wide-ranging coverage of this field is 


        The New White House NASA Policy: Initial Impressions 

It's early days yet, but we have reached a few conclusions about 
this new government space exploration policy.  One important thing 
to keep in mind here: A November win stipulated, this White House 
still has only five years to accomplish its goals.  Come January 
2009 it's someone else's turn.  We won't get back to the Moon in 
five years, let alone on to Mars - the real question is, at the end 
of five years, will NASA be changed enough to begin heading on out 
there halfway affordably? 

After spending way too much time the last few weeks reading the tea 
leaves, our answer is, yes, it could happen.  There are no sure 
things in politics, but the approach this Administration seems to be 
taking is vastly better than every previous major NASA initiative of 
the last twenty years, in that it's at least not obviously doomed 
from the start by trusting NASA as-is to do the job.  Major NASA 
restructuring seems to be in the wind, albeit soft-peddled thus far 
in this election year. 

Which reminds us - we think this new plan is very unlikely to be 
what many are claiming, mere election-year feelgood puffery.  Were 
it so, the Administration would be making promises left and right, 
jobs for everyone and a contract in every district, and not worrying 
overmuch whether the Congress would fund it all once the election's 
over.  Instead, the White House and NASA HQ have been notably 
reticent about reassuring the established NASA manned space Centers 
and contractors that they'll all have major roles in the new 
initiative.  Refusing to promise job security is a poor way to win 
votes.  It is, however, a good way to keep options open to implement 
the sort of major restructuring NASA will need to meet the new 
program's ambitious goals within relatively modest budget increases. 

Those things said, we think the core of this exercise will be the 
irreversible retirement of Shuttle in favor of EELV for NASA-
operated manned space missions past the end of this decade.   
Transportation-centric of us, yes, we know...  But consider: 

 - Shuttle's fragility, slow turnaround, and manpower-intensive high 
cost are at the core of NASA's long-time manned-space paralysis. 

 - EELV, the new Delta 4 and Atlas 5 families of expendable 
boosters, was designed specifically to solve similar DOD problems 
with Titan 4, increasing reliability somewhat and greatly reducing 
turnaround time and manpower costs.  The EELV program seems to be 
more or less succeeding at these goals, on the evidence to date. 

 - DOD however is faced with paying more for the EELVs they buy, due 
to a dearth of commercial sales reducing the production runs below 
planned levels.  Switching NASA to EELV not only would save NASA 
about three billion a year on a raw pounds-to-orbit basis 
(presumably less once new specialized NASA vehicle costs are 
factored in) but would also reduce DOD space launch costs by 
increasing EELV production runs. 

 - If the prospect of this policy double-win isn't enough to 
convince you that EELV is in NASA's future, keep in mind that the 
head of the new NASA transformation advisory commission is Pete 
Aldridge, AKA "The Father of the EELV", and the only other space-
launch specialist on the commission was also heavily involved in 
DOD's move to EELV.  

Many at NASA and elsewhere seem to think that the new deep-space 
Crewed Exploration Vehicle, CEV, might yet fly on some sort of new 
heavy-lift launcher using Shuttle components.  We find that highly 
unlikely.  Shuttle is massively labor-intensive by design; keeping 
Shuttle components in production and using Shuttle operating 
organizations would mean keeping significant slices of current 
Shuttle payrolls.  This money has to be freed up for Moon-Mars or 
the plan won't work.  Developing a new Shuttle-derived launcher 
would also eat Moon-Mars money.  We don't think it's going to 

What we expect will happen before January 2009 is:

 - To prevent any future return to the Shuttle status quo, as much 
of the production and support structure as possible will be shut 
down and dispersed.  Enough hardware for remaining scheduled flights 
will be stockpiled, but we predict the workforces will be scattered 
and the factories will be scrapped. 

 - NASA is going to start learning to routinely assemble deep-space 
missions on-orbit.  The largest current EELV variants put about 25 
tons into low earth orbit, too small for practical Lunar trips, let 
alone Mars and other deep-space voyages.  These may also require 
some increased surge-launch capacity for EELV, additional pads and 
fast-turnaround booster/payload processing facilities. 

 - CEV, "Crewed Exploration Vehicle", will be highly modular to 
cover a range of missions, and its development will be an absolute 
top priority - if CEV development fails, NASA manned space has no 
sure future, post-Shuttle. 

One hopeful sign: Not only is the manager for CEV development an 
outsider to NASA business-as-usual (he's a Navy admiral who's run a 
couple of succesful jet fighter developments) but he's also working 
out of NASA HQ in DC rather than out of MSFC - none of the 
established NASA manned-space field centers is being promised any 
leading role in CEV development thus far. 

Another positive sign: NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe in Senate 
testimony recently spoke of seeking foreign (IE Soyuz) *and* 
commercial sources for Station support post-Shuttle.  It's probably 
just as well the Alternate Access To Station program has been shut 
down; after years as a lip-service sham the program would have had a 
hard time getting real.  But there's an obvious opening for 
something like Alt Access now - US commercial Station-service 
vehicles are no longer a threat to Shuttle; Shuttle's gone anyway.  
What they are now is a defense against a post-Shuttle Soyuz monopoly 
on Station access - likely to be seen in NASA now as a good thing. 

In this vein, NASA has signed a $200m+ contract with Kistler, 
ostensibly for flight test data, about a quarter of it payable 
before first flight, the rest on delivery of flight test data.  This 
should give Kistler a real chance of getting out of Chapter 11 and 
on to first flight of their 75% completed two-stage reusable medium-
lift launcher.  This move seems to indicate a considerably improved 
NASA attitude toward using genuine commercial space transportation 
for routine service missions.  We await with interest further 

Finally for now, NASA has officially embraced prizes!  There's $20 
million in the coming year's budget proposal to fund incentive 
prizes, details as yet unknown.  It's a start.

Mind, any number of things could prevent this plan succeeding.  
Congress could balk at the depth of the restructuring we expect will 
get underway, post-election.  The current Administration could lose 
next fall's election and leave office in a year.  NASA could screw 
up what we think will be its final chance to replace Shuttle, CEV 
development, and end up completely dependent on new commercial 
manned space capabilities.  Actually, this last strikes us as as not 
entirely a bad thing...  It's going to be interesting to watch this 
process - the next year should begin to show clearly  how close our 
educated guesses are. 


   HR 3752, "The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004"


The subject of who is going to regulate commercial operation of 
fast-turnaround reusable spaceships, and how they'll go about it, 
has been a matter of some concern to us for a long time now.  The 
mythical perfect-world ideal would be no regulation at all, just use 
common sense and don't drop anything on the neigbors, but that was 
never going to happen.  Even if the Federal government wasn't liable 
by treaty for any damages done by US citizen space operations, even 
if reusable spaceships didn't have a considerable capability overlap 
with long-range military missiles, a total lack of Federal 
regulation just isn't an option in a field as high-profile as space 
launch these days. 

Our fear, of course, has been (and remains) a Federal regulatory 
regime that via technical restrictions and/or sheer mass of 
expensive and time-consuming paperwork effectively prevents small 
innovative startups from getting into the business. 

Over the last few years, the actual choice in US orbital launch 
regulators has boiled down to this: Fly on a government contract 
from a government range, or be regulated by the Federal Aviation 
Administration's space transportation department, FAA AST.  

For suborbital launches, under some circumstances there may be an 
additional choice, regulation by FAA's aviation department, AVR. 
This is because the line between suborbital launchers and aircraft 
is somewhat blurred, and the jurisdictional dividing line AST and 
AVR came up with, that a vehicle is a launcher not an airplane only 
if its thrust is greater than its aerodynamic lift for the majority 
of its time of powered flight, leaves some suborbital launcher 
configurations officially on the "airplane" side of the line - 
specifically, winged vehicles that start and end their missions 
powered by conventional jet engines, and more esoterically, low-
thrust high-lift rocket vehicles that don't go over to thrust-
greater-than-lift until quite late in their powered flight time. 

Our understanding is that this dividing line was hard-fought and is 
not likely to change soon, by the way.  The way it was explained to 
us is that AVR didn't want to leave a loophole for people to game 
their rules by attaching a small rocket motor to something that's 
primarily an airplane then saying "this is not an airplane". 

We don't know whether AVR really wants to regulate genuine 
suborbital launchers that happen to fall on their side of this 
jurisdictional line.  Complicating matters even more is that some of 
the suborbital startups say, privately at least, that they would 
very much prefer to be regulated by AVR, including some who 
definitely fall on the AST side of the line. 

The main reason we've heard for preferring AVR is that AVR 
experimental aircraft certification is traditionally quick, simple, 
and cheap, even for fairly radical configurations of aircraft.  AST 
RLV licensing takes longer and costs more - worse, it's not at all 
clear yet how much longer and how much more, since nobody has yet 
completed the process of obtaining one.  For anyone trying to get 
through flight test of a new suborbital RLV on limited budget and 
tight schedule, a traditional AVR experimental certificate can look 
awfully attractive. 

The other side of the coin is that while flight test may be easier 
under AVR (assuming they actually do choose to treat a suborbital 
rocket as just another unusual experimental airplane) they are 
notoriously stringent about going on to grant certification for 
commercial operations.  FAA AVR commercial certification 
requirements for even conventional configuration passenger aircraft 
can cost from tens to hundreds of millions to meet, and our guess is 
that things would not get easier or cheaper for the highly 
unconventional designs needed to produce practical space launchers. 

AST's license process by contrast is for the moment one-size-fits-
all; any limits on commercial operations would be in the details of 
a particular license, not a matter of a separate class of license.  
We've heard estimates from various startups of the cost of obtaining 
an AST license ranging from $100,000 (to license a followon to a 
hypothetical existing licensed vehicle) to $1 million (starting from 
scratch.)  Not cheap, but not prohibitive either - and far cheaper 
than AVR has historically been for commercial certification. 

Complicating the matter, of course, is that AST's RLV licensing 
process is still evolving.  This among other things means that the 
best chance of avoiding unpleasant regulatory surprises late in the 
development process is to work closely with AST from the start.  
This does not always sit well with people independent-minded enough 
to be starting their own rocket companies.  Regardless, we don't 
expect to settle the controversy here, just describe it.  The AST 
RLV licensing process will be much less of a moving target and we 
will all be much less nervous about it after the first few licenses 
have actually been granted - hopefully in the next few months. 

HR 3752 

 HR 3752, "The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004", has 
been approved by the House Science Committee and now awaits 
consideration by the full House.  This is a direct descendant of HR 
3245; it mainly makes adjustments in current law on licensing of 
commercial RLV operations, but also extends the current government 
partial coverage of US launch operator liabilities for three years. 

We've read it, and on the whole we approve and recommend support - 
there are one or two oddities, but it does at least one extremely 
useful thing, providing for a reduced-leadtime, reduced-paperwork 
"permit" process for RLV development and test flight operations - 
somewhat analogous to AVR's experimental type certificate. 

Other than that, much of what HR 3752 does is provide explicitly at 
appropriate points in the AST licensing ennabling law (Title 49, 
Subtitle IX, Chapter 701) for both crew and passengers ("spaceflight 
participants") taking part in commercial spaceflight.  3752 goes on 
to say that spaceflight is an inherently risky business, that crew 
medical and training standards are to be worked out between AST and 
licensees as part of the license, while passengers must simply be 
informed in detail of the risks. 

We hope to cover this in more detail later this month, but for the 
moment, we'll conclude by saying we support it, and we recommend 
that everyone interested contact their Representative and Senators 
and ask them to support HR 3752. 


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