Space Access Update #114  2/20/06 
                 Copyright 2006 by Space Access Society 

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Contents This Issue:

 - Space Access '06 Hotel Info & Conference Info 

 - Some Thoughts On The Revolution 

 - Industry Roundup 

             Space Access '06 April 20-22 in Phoenix Arizona 
                       Preliminary Conference Info 

Space Access '06 is our upcoming annual conference on the technology, 
business, and politics of radically cheaper space transportation, 
featuring a cross-section of leading players in the field.  Our 
fourteenth annual conference will once again be an intensive informal 
snapshot of where the burgeoning low-cost space access industry is this 
spring of 2006.  Space Access conferences are specifically set up to 
maximize opportunities for exchanging information and doing business.  
No rubber-chicken banquets, just an intensive single-track schedule in a 
setting with plenty of comfortable places to go off and talk during the 
breaks, not least of these our world-famous Hospitality suite. 

Our location this year is the Grace Inn, 10831 S 51st St, Phoenix 
Arizona, a clean modern resort hotel seven freeway miles from the 
Phoenix Airport, with a free airport shuttle.  Our special conference 
room rate, taxes and full buffet breakfast included, is $99 a night 
single or double, $119 for a suite.  Call 1 800 843-6010 for room 
reservations, mention "space access".  Space Access '06 times are 
Thursday April 20th 2 pm through ~10 pm, Friday the 21st and and 
Saturday the 22nd 9 am to ~10 pm.  (We will post a more detailed agenda 
as the conference approaches and we pin down our speakers' travel 

Confirmed speakers so far:  Armadillo Aerospace, FAA AST, Len 
Cormier/PanAero, Mike Kelly/ Personal Spaceflight Federation, Jim 
Muncy/Polispace, Jerry Pournelle, Rocketplane LLC, Henry Spencer, TGV 
Rockets,  XCOR Aerospace.  Watch for additional speakers as they confirm 
plus other conference info at:  (We are very 
conservative about listing speakers as confirmed; expect this list to 
grow fast as we catch up with a bunch of interesting people who've 
indicated they'd like to talk over the last year.) 

Space Access '06 registration is $100 in advance, $120 at the door.  
Student rate is $30.  (Day rates available at the door.)  Mail checks 
to: Space Access Society, 5515 N 7th St #5-348, Phoenix AZ 85014.  Be 
sure to include your name, address, affiliation info for your badge (if 
desired), and an email address (for Updates) with your Space Access '06 
advance registration. 

                     Some Thoughts On The Revolution 

We are going to take a look once again at what Space Access Society is 
trying to accomplish, and why, and how we think it's going lately.  
(Bear with us, old hands, we actually have a few new points to make.) 

US space launch prices currently run on the rough order of ten thousand 
dollars per pound delivered to low orbit, the first essential step into 
the solar system.  We're here because we think it's possible, by 
applying sensible management and inspired engineering to existing rocket 
technology, to bring this cost down by one to two orders of magnitude.
(See for the detailed 
arguments behind this assertion.) 

What interests us here today though is that the core of our position, 
the possibility of as much as a hundredfold lower launch costs without 
waiting for radically new technologies to arrive, has spent a long time 
as a matter of faith among a small minority, a point argued mainly by 
analysis, a point absent proof not widely accepted.  

For a while we thought we had our proof in DC-X, built and flown and 
flown again by SDIO for a fraction of traditional government aerospace 
costs.  But the limited nature of the DC-X project and the massive botch 
NASA made of the X-33 followon combined to hopelessly muddy the waters.  
We had additional evidence, but persuasive proof remained lacking. 

Then in fall 2004 Paul Allen, Burt Rutan, and company won the X-Prize, 
and in the process beat the old X-15 piloted suborbital altitude record, 
for just over one percent of what the X-15 program cost.  We had a new 
proof, one hard to ignore, one that quickly started catalyzing multiple 
funded followup projects.  Hallelujah, the revolution was at hand! 

We have more proofs in the pipeline this year - SpaceX will soon take 
their next shot at demonstrating they can match Russian expendable space 
launch costs (several times lower than traditional US Big Aerospace) 
even while paying US wage, materials, and overhead rates.  We expect 
them to succeed, if not this time (first launches of new boosters are 
historically a 50-50 thing) then the next, or the next.  And in the 
coming months, Bigelow Aerospace will orbit their first subscale demo of 
a commercial inflatable orbital habitat.  Both the means to get there 
and a place to go to, already at near an order of magnitude below 
traditional Big Aerospace costs, are on the verge of changing from sci-
fi wishful thinking to demonstrated fact. 

So.  The revolution is unstoppable now, right?  And the winners are 
established and can start coining money?  The rest of us should all go 
home now - right?  

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.  It's been another good year - a great year - 
but there's still a long hard road ahead.

We've seen the revolution arrive unstoppably before, twice now in just 
over a decade, with the flights of DC-X and then with the prospect of 
skies dark with low-orbit telecomms satellites.  Far too much might yet 
go wrong with this "unstoppable revolution" too.

As for the winners being established, everyone else can go home now... 
We can forgive such sentiments, between well-earned euphoria and 
understandable preemptive marketing hype (this is America, after all) 
but the history of previous transportation revolutions tells us that the 
first often don't dominate in the long run.  Else we'd all be riding in 
Curtiss-Wright airliners...  We think there's room for a bunch of 
competitive new entrants, and may the best ships win.  But the only 
halfway safe bet right now is that the Boeing and Airbus of the mid-21st 
century won't be called "Boeing" and "Airbus". 

Keep in mind too that there are large engineering hurdles still ahead.  
Those taking the reusable suborbital development path need to keep in 
mind that winning the X-Prize took handling perhaps a tenth of the 
energy involved in getting to orbit.  Even going long distances point-
to-point on Earth will require two-thirds to three-quarters of orbital 
energy; there's no obvious small easy next step there.  Meanwhile, those 
going for orbit now and reusability later also have some major hurdles 
ahead.  We advocate reusability, but we don't pretend it's easy in a 
vehicle that has to make it to orbit and back - it will take some 
inspired engineering and a lot of hard work. 

Getting to orbit and back reliably, repeatably, and radically cheaper is 
going to take additional generations of reusable rocketship development.  
The good news is, we're seeing ever more proof that a generation of 
spacecraft development done right (outside the sclerotic existing 
government-aerospace bureaucracy) can happen in just a few years, not 
decades.  Multiple generations of development per decade are possible - 
it's been done before.  It's starting to happen again now, in the new 
private space sector. 

But then there are the legal aspects - government regulations, plus the 
closely intertwined issues of liability and insurance costs. We've seen 
progress on these fronts, and we're cautiously optimistic, but there's 
still a lot of work ahead here too.

And let's not forget the purely political angle - we have three more 
years of a relatively supportive Administration to get as much done as 
possible.  After that we could see anything from continued support 
through indifference to outright ideological hostility from DC.  Make 
hay while the sun shines, guys... 

But we can't complain.  These are great times.  We're not there yet - 
but we are getting there. 

Viva la revolucion! 

                            Industry Roundup 

This is not intended to be a comprehensive look at the state of the new 
low-cost spaceflight industry.  (For that, you're better off monitoring 
on an ongoing basis the websites that do daily coverage - not to slight 
anyone else, but is one good place to start 
following links and building up bookmarks.)  Rather, we're going to skip 
around to various items that made an impression on us in recent months, 
with an occasional interjection of our views on one thing or another. 

We are seeing signs that this industry is growing up fast.  One trend is 
specialization - rocketship builders are starting to differentiate from 
rocketship operators, something that happened to the air transport 
industry too around the time it was getting serious.  

Another is that rocketship builders are beginning to access a novel 
method of finance for this industry: Paying customers, both government 
agencies wanting a mix of tech development and delivered payloads, and 
commercial operators wanting actual ships to fly. 

And while most company finance in this industry is still via some 
variant of "angel investors", aka wealthy individuals, there have been a 
number of signs that the venture capital industry may not be that far 
behind.  First there's all the positive press buzz of the last year, of 
course.  Never underestimate the herd factor in investment trends. 

There are also signs of a fundamental VC investment requirement firming 
up: The exit strategy.  One time-honored way to cash out investment in 
an innovative startup is by selling out to an established player that 
wants a foot in the new door.  Arianespace showed up at the X-Prize 
Cup's Personal Spaceflight Symposium last fall "looking for possible 
connections" in this new industry.  We've seen indications the US launch 
majors too are keeping a close eye on developments among the startups.  
Looking to eventually buy what they can't foster internally?  It 
wouldn't be unprecedented. 

On the regulatory front, things keep moving forward.  FAA AST's Notice 
of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on commercial human spaceflight is open 
for comment through February 27th - text of the NPRM is at:  This is AST's 
proposed implementation of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act 
passed just over a year ago, now well on its way to becoming detailed 

And there's a "Space Weather Week" gettogether in Boulder April 25-28 - 
see  Some of the people involved will be 
at Space Access '06 the week before, holding private discussions with 
interested industry parties, AKA potential customers for timely space 
weather information. 

                             The X-Prize Cup 

Probably the single place that brought together more interesting trends 
in this industry (at least until Space Access '06 this April) was the X-
Prize Cup series of events in New Mexico last fall.  On the downside, 
events were scattered over four days and a quarter of the state, and 
there was a certain amount of first-time disorganization and slack time.  

On the upside, a lot of good and interesting things happened.  We 
already mentioned Arianespace checking out the new industry.  Virgin 
Galactic's Alex Tai emphasized to the same Personal Spaceflight 
Symposium audience that Virgin will primarily be an operator, not a 
developer, saying more or less "if you have a better spaceship, then we 
want to operate it" - making clear that Virgin's deal with Scaled 
Composites for SpaceShip 2 suborbital tourist ships is non-exclusive.  
Armadillo and XCOR both flew - for pay - reusable rockets, XCOR twice 
the same afternoon, wowing the (large, paying) crowd at the day-long 
"Prelude To The X-Prize Cup" rocket festival at Las Cruces Airport.  
Much of the rest of the industry showed up with static displays, booths 
and mockups, some threatening to be back next year with flyable ships 
themselves .  XCOR CEO Jeff Greason, by the way, mentioned at the 
Symposium that XCOR's marginal cost per flight of their EZ-Rocket 
demonstrator was about $900, stunningly low by Big Aerospace standards 
of recent decades.  And Peter Diamandis, wearing his Zero-G Corp 
(weightless parabolic-arc airplane rides) hat, mentioned that their 
 operation has achieved a spacesickness rate among passengers of under 
4%, as opposed to the NASA "Vomit Comet" record of 25-50%.  Being 
customer-driven can make a difference, apparently.  (Though to be fair, 
one skeptic points out to us that NASA typically flies several times as 
many parabolic arcs as he experienced on his Zero-G flight.) 

                          Commercial Spaceports 

Another, less obvious good thing that happened at the XP Cup events was 
that a lot of New Mexico movers and shakers showed up to see whether 
they should take this new industry seriously.  New Mexico got burned in 
the late nineties putting tens of millions into a spaceport aimed at X-
33, and the memory lingers.  Apparently they were reassured by what they 
saw this time.  The New Mexico legislature just approved the first 
hundred million in funding (of $225 million total expected) for the new 
Southwest Regional Spaceport to be built on state land west of the White 
Sands Missile Range, with Virgin Galactic as an anchor tenant. 

Commercial spaceport development has become a hot topic in general.  
Over at Mojave Spaceport, Burt Rutan has said that he expects that among 
four or five different potential SpaceShipTwo operators, at least two 
would fly out of the already-licensed California facility, home base to 
Rutan's scaled Composites, XCOR, and a number of other outfits. 

Virgin made clear that New Mexico's greater willingness to provide 
incentives for siting there was a factor in their decision.  There is a 
Futron estimate that by 2020 the new spaceport could return some 5,800 
new jobs and $752 million new economic activity to the state.  New 
Mexico expects to obtain their FAA spaceport license by the end of 2006.  
In the meantime, UP Aerospace will break in the site with a series of 
sounding rocket flights starting in late March under FAA waivers. 

Oklahoma meanwhile quietly completed environmental assessments for their 
own commercial spaceport at Burns Flats early this year and is expecting 
FAA approval in the spring.  Oklahoma is already home to Rocketplane LLC 
and TGV Rockets.  

At the same time, Florida is one of a number of states vigorously 
debating making a significant commercial spaceport investment and 
looking at possible sites 

                        The Suborbital Contenders 

Getting down to actual rocketship builders and operators, now, first 
we'll take a look at some of the suborbital contenders.  There is a LOT 
of action in this field. 

We'll start with a look at a sub-suborbital contender... The new Rocket 
Racing League (RRL) announced by X-Prize's Peter Diamandis and Grainger 
Whitelaw (a partner in several Indy 500 racing teams) plans to hold a 
series of rocket powered airplane races around the country, culminating 
in a yearly fly-off at the October X-Prize Cup event in New Mexico. 

(We say "sub-sub-orbital" because the RRL plan is to fly a closed course 
at low altitude in front of spectators.  We confess to a prejudice in 
favor of what rockets do best, flying high straight and fast - Mojave to 
Vegas time trials, anyone? - but the RRL approach probably does make for 
a better show, and will certainly advance operability of the ships 
quickly, as reliability and turnaround time in refuelling pit-stops will 
be key competitive elements.  We'll watch this sport.) 

The rocket racers are inspired by XCOR's "EZ-Rocket" operations-testbed 
conversion of a Long-EZ light sportplane, and will be based on a higher 
performance airframe manufactured by Velocity Aircraft of Florida, 
powered by an XCOR 1800-pound thrust LOX-kerosene rocket engine.  The 
first Rocket Racer is expected to fly demos at next October's XP Cup, 
with racing to commence the following year. 

On to the suborbital spaceflight companies...  Armadillo Aerospace plans 
to approach 100 kilometers altitude with its latest computer controlled 
bipropellant engine Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTVL) rocket this 
year.  They plan to fly it at next fall's XP Cup event.  We expect it's 
no coincidence that our back-of-the-envelope performance calculation for 
this vehicle matches closely the requirements of a NASA Centennial 
Challenges prize contest to be run for the first time at the XP Cup.  
The Lunar Lander Analog Challenge has a $2 million prize for the first 
vehicle that demonstrates powered vertical takeoff and landing plus 
enough velocity change capability to go from Lunar surface to Low Lunar 
orbit and back.  Detailed rules for this contest are expected out in the 
next few days. 

The ever mysterious Blue Origin (funded by Jeff Bezos of 
continues its secretive ways.  We've seen information recently primarily 
due to legal requirements as they establish facilities.  Test flights of 
their VTVL suborbital ship from West Texas may come later this year.  
The company has purchased a headquarters in Kent, Washington that 
includes a rocket test stand and various shop and assembly areas. 

Speaking of mysterious, TGV Rockets, the granddaddy of all reusable 
suborbital ventures, continues to pursue government rather than 
commercial markets, and is looking for a few good engineers.  For 
anything more than that you'll have to come to Space Access '06 and try 
to pry it out of TGV yourself.  Good luck! 

Rocketplane plans to roll out their prototype Rocketplane XP by the end 
of this year, commence test flights early next year, and hopes to start 
commercial service late next year.  The prototype will be powered by a 
Rocketdyne RS-88 50,000 pound thrust engine borrowed from NASA and 
derated to the XP's 30,000 pound thrust requirement.  (We expect it's 
significant the engine is coming from NASA and not Rocketdyne; the 
company reputedly is tough to deal with even for large government 
customers.)  Rocketplane has announced agreements to market seats on the 
XP with Incredible Adventures, Inc and with a UK company, Pure Vacations  
The latter's marketing division for the flights is called Pure Galactic. 

Masten Space Systems is testing and refining its 500 pound thrust engine 
and assembling parts for the XA-0.1 VTVL testbed, which through several 
iterations is planned to lead to the XA-1.0, 100 kg payload to 100 
kilometers system.  We understand that they are developing market data 
and have started looking for their first round of external investment. 

Brian Feeney of the Canadian da Vinci project tells us that development 
is continuing on the original three seat,  balloon-launched suborbital 
ship, but the earliest flight attempt would be in the 1st or 2nd quarter 
of 2007.  In reaction to others' progress toward commercial suborbital 
flight, they have also begun proof of concept work on the Tiger, which 
would be a winged nine seat suborbital ship dispensing with the balloon. 

UK-based Starchaser twice fired their Churchill II engine at the XP Cup 
rocket festival last fall, the second try resulting in a Hollywood-style 
billowing fireball.  They didn't seem surprised, saying that particular 
engine was nearing the end of its expected life.  We speculate they may 
have decided there was little downside to accidentally doing something 
so crowd-pleasing.  They have scaled back for the moment their plans for 
a 3 person suborbital capsule/reusable rocket, in favor of building and 
marketing a smaller unmanned sounding rocket.  They have an office in 
Las Cruces NM, and are seeking a site for a rocket-assembly facility in 
the area. 

Planetspace has a lot on their plate, working toward first manned launch 
of their Canadian Arrow V-2 derived ship in 2008, announcing the long-
term goal of developing their Silver Dart orbital spacecraft (based on 
an old USAF lifting body concept called FDL-7 and powered by a booster 
using up to ten of the Canadian Arrow's 70,000 pound class engines) and 
working on a NASA COTS proposal based on the Silver Dart. 

And in this week's big surprise, Space Adventures in partnership with 
the Ansari family's Prodea investment firm announced a deal with a 
consortium of Russian aerospace companies via the Russian Federal Space 
Agency to build the five-seat "Explorer" suborbital tourist ship, a 
larger version of the Myasichev "Cosmopolis 21" air-launched solid-
rocket powered spaceplane that was being promoted a while back.  The 
deal includes operations from multiple spaceports worldwide, possibly in 
the US and Australia, and definitely in the United Arab Emirates and 
Singapore.  Plans are to be flying as soon as late next year. 


Now, before we move on to some of the low-cost orbital ventures, we want 
to briefly climb onto a hobby-horse of ours, "savability".  It's an 
awkward word, but we haven't come up with a better name for the concept 
in nearly twenty years of trying, and it's a vital concept. 

Savability is what Max Hunter called the vehicle design characteristic 
of being able to, at any point in a flight, decide that things aren't 
going well, stop, and land the ship safely.  Savability is what makes 
modern air travel so safe - modern airliners by design can survive the 
vast majority of things that might go wrong, and either turn back and 
land or even shrug and continue to the destination.

More subtly, savability is what allows modern aircraft to be flight-
tested incrementally to work out all the bugs before entering service - 
from low-speed taxi tests through the first short hop on to exploring 
the far corners of the flight envelope, every step of the way if 
something goes wrong the test pilots can abort the mission, land the 
plane, and try again tomorrow. 

Now, savability is never absolute.  If an airplane's main wing spar 
breaks, it's toast.  But savability over the vast majority of possible 
failures is what makes modern air travel as safe and cheap as it is. 

Traditional "disintegrating totem pole" expendable rockets are totally 
unsavable.  You cannot incrementally flight-test them - each time you 
push the button to fly, it's all or nothing, orbit or a smoking hole in 
the ground.  This is why these rockets require such painstaking pre-
flight procedures, months of component testing then hours or days of 
traditional countdown, as every last system on the rocket is checked and 
rechecked.  This is also why even the best of such rockets still fail 
catastrophically one or two percent of the time - because in a big 
complex system like an airplane or a space rocket, some problems simply 
won't become visible till the whole system is flying. 

Reusability brings the potential of savability to rockets.  This, just 
as much as not throwing the hardware away, is why we think reusability 
is essential to radical cost reductions in the long run.  Because until 
rockets are engineered to be savable under most possible failures, 
neither their safety nor their operability will reach acceptable levels 
for routine commercial transportation.  They'll take way too much pre-
flight prep, and they'll still crash too often. 

Note we said reusability brings the potential of savability, not the 
assurance of it.  Reusability implies the ability to land the ship again 
safely at the end of the flight, but there are all sorts of design 
choices that can deny that ability at various intermediate points in a 
flight.  NASA calls these "black zones", segments of a flight profile 
where trying to abort and land means destruction of the ship.  A few 
common examples: Shuttle launches while the SRBs are burning - there's 
no safe way to stop the solids running before they're out of fuel.  Any 
vehicle while it's still loaded with more weight (propellant or payload) 
than it can safely land with, or loaded outside its safe landing center-
of-gravity limits.  Any vehicle at a point in its launch profile where 
reaching a safe landing requires more maneuverability than it's got, or 
requires exceeding aerodynamic or thermal or structural limits. 

Savability is something that has to be kept in mind every step of the 
way in designing a truly safe operable rocketship.  It will be, we 
predict, a major factor in separating the successes from the also-rans 
in this new industry.  Perfect savability is an unachievable ideal, but 
adequate savability, most of the time under most circumstances, is key. 

                        The Low-Cost Expendables 

SpaceX right now is nearing the end of a long, painful process every 
traditional booster maker has had to go through: Working out that last 
1% of pre-launch procedure that can't be predicted ahead of time, 
dealing with the obscure interactions that don't show up until the 
actual vehicle is on an actual launch pad being prepared for an actual 
launch. Compounding the difficulties, they're doing this from a launch 
site 6000 miles from their home base.  We counsel patience, both to them 
and to everyone waiting to see how they do on their first attempt to put 
Falcon 1 into orbit.  We also remind everyone that first launches of 
expendable boosters are historically a coin-flip, for reasons alluded to 
in the previous section.  There's just too much that can go wrong when 
the first flight test of a complex system has to get all the way to 
orbit.  All that said, may the champagne be cold, ready, and earned, 

AirLaunch LLC has been working on the two stage Quickreach rocket to 
carry small satellites to orbit at under $5 million per flight with 24 
hour response time, as part of the DARPA FALCON program.  In the $11 
million Phase 2A Airlaunch dropped a dummy booster out the back of a C-
17, proving their concept for bringing the rocket to vertical boost 
position so that wings (such as those on the Orbital Sciences Pegasus) 
are not needed.  In November, Airlaunch got $17.5 million more for Phase 
2B, and by January they had successfully ground demonstrated pneumatic 
separation of a dry dummy first stage from the second stage nozzle. 

AirLaunch is also a partner with T/Space in their NASA COTS program bid, 
which proposes a much larger version of this booster (Quickreach 2) to 
launch a manned capsule.  That booster would also be air dropped, from 
external carriage under a large new Scaled Composites carrier aircraft. 
A subscale drop test succeeded using the existing Scaled Composites 
Proteus carrier aircraft.  (It's noteworthy that the dollars for this 
flight demonstration came from preliminary COTS study funds that NASA 
had assumed would be only adequate for paperwork.) 

That's not close to all that's going on in this new industry, but it's 
all we have time for now.   See you all at SA'06! 

Space Access Society's sole purpose is to promote radical reductions 
in the cost of reaching space.  You may redistribute this Update in 
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 Space Access Society 

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