Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The NewSpace Race

Click the arrow to watch Gabriel Rothblatt's statement on NewSpace. Video source: Gabriel Rothblatt YouTube channel.

Gabriel Rothblatt, the Democratic challenger to Space Coast representative Bill Posey (R-Rockledge) in this November's congressional race, posted today on YouTube the above video detailing his views and plan for supporting NewSpace in his district.

It's simply stunning to hear a political candidate of any partisan stripe articulate such a passionate and insightful endorsement of NewSpace — much less know what it is.

The demographics are against Rothblatt in November. Posey won re-election in the 8th District in November 2012 with 58.9% of the vote. The district includes Brevard County plus parts of Orange and Indian River counties. According to the Brevard County Supervisor of Elections, as of August 25 only 33% of the district is registered Democrat, while 42% is registered Republican.

According to BallotPedia, three different political analysis services rate Posey's district “solid” or “safe” for the incumbent.

After he took office in January 2009, Posey made nonsensical claims that China was going to colonize the Moon as a “military high ground.”

At a February 2010 space summit in Orlando, Posey falsely claimed that President Barack Obama “made a promise that he would close the gap between shuttle and Constellation” and “made the gap eternal” when in fact Obama said no such thing; he did promise to “speed the Shuttle's successor” but he never said that would be Constellation.

Posey has consistently voted for NASA spending bills that slashed commercial crew funding, extending NASA reliance on the Russian Soyuz for International Space Station access by at least two years. Obama didn't extend the gap. Posey did.

In September 2012, Posey co-sponsored legislation that would transfer management of NASA from the executive branch to Congress. That legislation, of course, went nowhere and some felt it was unconstitutional.

But to his credit, Posey's position on commercial space has evolved in the last year.

In September 2013, Posey confronted Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) when the latter, who chairs the House Space Subcommittee, tried to cut off Posey who was trying to object to political interference in the commercial use of Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A. Posey organized the entire Florida congressional delegation, Republican and Democrat, into signing a letter opposing political interference in the Pad 39A bid.

Click the arrow to watch the February 10, 2014 House hearing on disposal of underutilized NASA facilities.

In February 2014, Posey was one of the House members who attended a joint committee hearing at the KSC Visitor Complex to urge transfer of unused KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force station assets to the private sector. In his remarks, Posey said:

There was a time when America virtually had a monopoly on commercial space. A hundred percent of the satellites fundamentally were launched from right here. Under the old business model with NASA and the Air Force, we basically choked the Golden Goose to death with red tape and over-regulation, launch fees and other disincentives. Many in the commercial space industry found it much more advantageous to operate in other countries, where in fact instead of overregulating and essentially taxing the commercial space industry, they subsidized it. Pretty soon, we became not very competitive and we went from a hundred percent of the world's commercial launch business to probably less than ten percent.

In July 2014, Posey sponsored with Democrat Derek Kilmer (D-WA) the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act to establish laws governing the exploration and harvesting of asteroids.

To my knowledge, Posey has canned the loopy China-turning-the-Moon-into-the-Death-Star rhetoric and seems to finally understand that the Space Coast must change its ways to compete in the NewSpace economy. But Rothblatt has issued a statement far more in favor of NewSpace than anything Posey has said to date. Many of the residents around Kennedy Space Center are still stuck in the past, so I doubt they'll support Rothblatt, but they weren't going to vote for him anyway due to partisan affiliation.

Rothblatt nonetheless deserves accolades for a positive and visionary statement supporting NewSpace, telling the locals what they need to hear — even if they don't want to hear it.

The Bloom is Off the Rose

Existing and proposed vertical launch pads at Kennedy Space Center. Image source: NASA.

Florida Today posted an article August 23 about Space Florida's criticism of Kennedy Space Center's proposed master plan.

Unrealistic launch pad locations. Projects so vague no meaningful environmental review is possible. A business model that could discourage, rather than attract, new commercial launch activity at Kennedy Space Center.

Those are among significant concerns state officials identified with KSC's new 20-year master plan in a broad critique submitted as part of the plan's environmental review.

Space Florida said neither option being considered by NASA's environmental review — to adopt the master plan or not — represents "the best interests of either the nation or the State of Florida," and master plan revisions may be necessary.

Criticism of master plans is hardly new — pretty much every government master plan proposal is subject to second-guessing, parochialism and enlightened self-interest — but the Space Florida critique is more evidence of why SpaceX and other commercial enterprises may go elsewhere.

The letter also suggests that the bloom is off the rose in the budding courtship between Space Florida and NASA.

In early August, SpaceX announced its plan to build its own commercial spaceport at Boca Chica, Texas. Contrary to rumors being circulated here in Brevard County, SpaceX is not leaving Cape Canaveral Air Force Station or Kennedy Space Center. Those will still be used for government launches. Boca Chica will be for launching commercial customers, such as the recent AsiaSat missions at the CCAFS Launch Complex 40.

An August 3 Florida Today article reported that AsiaSat executives — some of whom are from China — were restricted in their access to LC-40 because of their nationality. Boca Chica isn't a military base, so security restrictions won't be a concern.

This is the main reason why commercial enterprises such as SpaceX are looking elsewhere. They don't want to have the federal government as a landlord.

So Space Florida was created by the Florida Legislature in 2006 “to foster the growth and development of a sustainable and world-leading aerospace industry in this state.”

(1) There is established, formed, and created Space Florida, which is created as an independent special district, a body politic and corporate, and a subdivision of the state, to foster the growth and development of a sustainable and world-leading aerospace industry in this state. Space Florida shall promote aerospace business development by facilitating business financing, spaceport operations, research and development, workforce development, and innovative education programs. Space Florida has all the powers, rights, privileges, and authority as provided under the laws of this state.

(2) In carrying out its duties and responsibilities, Space Florida shall advise, coordinate, cooperate, and, when necessary, enter into memoranda of agreement with municipalities, counties, regional authorities, state agencies and organizations, appropriate federal agencies and organizations, and other interested persons and groups.

You might be asking, “Why would a commercial enterprise find a state landlord any more attractive than a federal landlord?“ And that's a valid question.

According to the letter, the agency “has facilitated State and private capital market financing of more than $500 million in infrastructure improvements at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, the majority of which have supplemented federal program funding in order to support major U.S. Government space mission needs.”

In many cases, Space Florida leases the facility from the federal agency, then becomes itself a lessor to a commercial company. One example is the former Orbiter Processing Facility 3 next to KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building.

The Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) near the Vehicle Assembly Building. Image source: Space Florida.

Space Florida has renovated the hangar and turned it into the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF), anticipating Boeing as a tenant with the CST-100 commercial crew vehicle. But Boeing has recently threatened to leave if it doesn't get an award in the next round, leaving Space Florida with no tenant.

In 2011, Space Florida and Bigelow Aerospace signed an agreement that could have led to the Bigelow expandable habitats and their customers launching from the Cape. But in February 2014 Bigelow representative Michael Gold said the company was looking at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops, Virginia for launches.

Why not the Space Coast?

... Bigelow would like to use Virginia’s spaceport for future missions, Gold said, noting Wallops has advantages over other options available to private companies.

Kennedy Space Center in Florida has “so much activity that commercial activity will be bumped,” while developing a new launch facility takes years, he said.

“Wallops is just right; you’ve got everything you need in terms of legal and regulatory readiness, but it’s not so developed” that the company would encounter a lot of delays, Gold said.

In February 2014, a joint Congressional panel held a hearing at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to discuss utilization of KSC and CCAFS assets.

Click the arrow to watch the Congressional hearing.

A major theme of the hearing was that potential commercial tenants chafe when restrained by a government landlord. Space Florida has tried to solve that problem by proposing a commercial spaceport on NASA property at the north end of KSC near Shiloh, an abandoned farm town near the Volusia County border. To escape the NASA bureaucracy, the land would be transferred to Space Florida — but it would still be a government landlord. Just a different government.

Where private companies see a government landlord, they also see the potential for subsidies, such as tax breaks or other incentives. Bigelow courting MARS could be the aerospace company playing two government agencies against one another to see who offers the sweetest deal.

The federal government can't do that, but Space Florida can.

There's also a cultural perception at the Cape that, whether it's KSC or CCAFS, commercial companies face intransigence from federal government bureaucrats who don't really like NewSpace because they perceive it as a threat to their long-ruled fiefdoms.

Space Florida is well aware of that, and that cultural conflict might be seen in how the KSC Master Plan ignores the Shiloh proposal.

NASA proposes instead its own new commercial pads north of the existing pads. These new pads are calling 39C and 39D.

An artist's concept of the Shiloh commercial spaceport. Image source: Space Florida.

NASA offers no clue as to how these pads will be funded. Several members at the February congressional hearing acknowledged a general lack of interest within Congress to increase NASA funding, so these new pads as well as other facilities may be no more than wishful thinking. The NASA pads also create the perception in the private sector that the Space Coast bureaucracy can't get its act together, that NASA and Space Florida aren't on the same page. In fact, the letter complains that “Space Florida was not consulted or engaged as a planning partner” in preparing the environmental study.

A July 5 Florida Today article reported that NASA and Space Florida have been unable to reach a lease agreement for the former Shuttle runway, after a year of negotiations. Space Florida has a number of potential customers in line for the runway, but NASA still wants to protect “the future interests of the agency.”

The bottom line is that NASA just can't let go — and the letter makes that quite clear.

A [Center Master Plan] that remains NASA-centric and fails to recognize the needs of its Florida stakeholders puts KSC's host state at high risk of becoming irrelevant in the changing commercial space industry, which will not wait until 2018, let alone 2032, before determining where it can best meet its business model for operational autonomy and commercial mission schedule priority.

If you're a NewSpace company looking to locate at the Cape, where do you begin? Space Florida? NASA? The Air Force?

The old guard clings to the Space Launch System as its raison d'être. This December, NASA will finally launch an Orion crew capsule, but it won't have anyone on board and it won't launch on the SLS. It's simply a demonstration flight to let the capsule test its steering systems and heat shield. The capsule can't be used again. It may be another four years before the first SLS test, with a different capsule, and that will also be uncrewed.

By 2018, commercial crew vehicles will be delivering astronauts to the International Space Station on reusable vehicles, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will be launching from Pad 39A, and the first Bigelow habitats will be on orbit.

An example of a Golden Spike lunar expedition using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy as the launch booster. Image source: The Golden Spike Company.

The Golden Spike Company, founded by former NASA executives, foresees using a combination of SpaceX or other NewSpace technologies to send public and private sector crew to the Moon by the end of the decade.

SLS, meanwhile, has no missions or destinations. It exists essentially to protect Shuttle-era jobs, which is why critics have dubbed it the Senate Launch System.

The OldSpace folks need to face reality. Apollo isn't coming back. The days are long gone when you were showered with tens of billions of dollars to perpetuate a big bloated inefficient government bureaucracy. The government doesn't owe you a job, and you're standing in the way of real progress that will open space to the masses.

An August 13 article in the Houston Press highlighted the clash between the two cultures, OldSpace and New. The next generation is headed for the private sector, while NASA protects its own into retirement. Progress is a secondary priority.

There are many different ways to privatize KSC and CCAFS. Space Florida isn't necessarily the answer, but they do understand that a cultural shift is at hand. The old guard needs to let go. It's time.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Retro Saturday: Steps to Saturn

Click the arrow to watch the documentary. Video source: wdtvlive YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday film is a 1966 NASA documentary titled Steps to Saturn.

The history of the Saturn V moon rocket is fairly well known, but its predecessors are not.

This document takes you back to the late 1950s, when Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team still worked for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. Originally proposed as a more powerful successor to the Jupiter, the Saturn program came with von Braun to NASA in 1960.

The Saturn program preceded President John F. Kennedy's May 25, 1961 speech proposing a manned lunar landing by the end of the 1960s. The Saturn program was selected as the launch vehicle.

The end of the film features the Cape's Launch Complex 34 and the first launch of a Saturn I on October 27, 1961.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Failure is an Option

Click the arrow to watch footage of the SpaceX F9R launch and failure. Video source: KWTX-TV Channel 10 in Waco, Texas.

KXXV-TV News Channel 25 - Central Texas News and Weather for Waco, Temple, Killeen |
KXXV Channel 25 in Waco, Texas news report on the SpaceX anomaly. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Late Friday August 22 reports began to show up on Twitter of a SpaceX rocket failure at their testing site in McGregor, Texas.

SpaceX later issued this press release:

SpaceX founder Elon Musk sent this tweet:

I'll post any detailed news over the weekend once reliable reports are available.

But I also want to remind everyone that this is why NASA recruited SpaceX in 2006 to partner with the Commercial Crew/Cargo Program Office — to encourage innovation by subsidizing risk.

I'm sure the SpaceX boobirds will be out in force, but let's see them show us an OldSpace company working on a three-engine version of a rocket that can fly itself back to a landing pad so it can be used again.

UPDATE August 23, 2014 — Media reports on the incident:

CBS News “SpaceX Rocket Explodes During Test Flight in Texas”

CNN “Experimental SpaceX Rocket Self-Detonates over Texas”

Florida Today “SpaceX Rocket Explodes in Texas”

KWTX Channel 10 Waco, Texas “Rocket Explodes at SpaceX”

KXXV Channel 25 Waco, Texas “Rocket Explodes during SpaceX Testing”

NASASpaceflight.com “Eventful Friday for SpaceX amid Static Fire and Test Failure”

NBC News “SpaceX Rocket Detonates After 'Anomaly' During Test Flight in Texas”

SpaceflightNow.com “SpaceX Rocket Prototype Explodes in Test Flight”

Washington Post “SpaceX Rocket Blows Up over Texas”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Next Industrial Revolution

Click the arrow to watch the event. Video source: AIAA YouTube channel.

Earlier this month, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) held its annual space forum in San Diego, California.

Among the events was an August 6 panel titled, “Emerging Space: The Next Industrial Revolution.” On the panel were:

  • Robert Pittman, Chief System Engineer, NASA Space Portal (Moderator)
  • Robert P. Hoyt, CEO & Chief Scientist, Tethers Unlimited Inc.
  • Michael Chen, Michael Chen, CSO and co-founder, Made in Space, Inc.
  • Col Gregory Johnson, USAF (Ret.), President and Executive Director, CASIS
  • Daniel Faber, Chief Executive Officer, Deep Space Industries
  • Jeffrey Manber, Managing Director, NanoRacks

The panel is an excellent discussion of the emerging commercial space industry, and how the International Space Station is the anchor for the NewSpace economy. It's a lot to slog through at 2½ hours, but well worth your time.

For those who claim the U.S. space program is inferior to other nations ... Show me how any of these countries are even remotely close to creating an entirely new economy based on opening space to the private sector. The panelists are among the visionaries who understand how NewSpace is the future of the American economy and the world in the 21st Century.