Astronautics Giant Speaks Out

February 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Astronautics giant Burt Rutan, whose name entered the household lexicon in the 80′s for designing and building Voyager, the first aircraft to fly around the world without refueling and most recently for the revolutionary SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo, the first, private spacecraft, has made a statement regarding what he feels was a misrepresentation by the Wall Street Journal of comments he made concerning the fate of NASA’s Constellation program. Constellation is the agency’s program to return humans to the moon and go beyond. But the President has proposed in his FY2011 budget to cancel it.

Here is Dr. Rutan’s statement followed by his letter to Congressman Wolf.


Since the WSJ chose to cherry-pick and miss-quote my comments to Cong Wolf and since the blogs have taken that to further mischaracterized my comments, I am forwarding the Wolf memo in its entirety, in the hopes that some of this gets corrected. Some additional clarification of my thoughts follow:

My basic concern is that the real value of NASA’s contributions that America realized in the 60s and early 70s is now being completely discarded. How can we rationalize a surrender of our preeminence in human spaceflight? In my mind, the important NASA accomplishments are twofold: 1) The technical breakthroughs achieved by basic research (not by Development programs like Constellation) and 2) The Forefront Manned Exploration that provided the inspiration for our youth to plan careers in engineering/science and that established the U.S. as the world leader in technology.

In short, it is a good idea indeed for the commercial community to compete to re-supply the ISS and to bring about space access for the public to enjoy. I applaud the efforts of SpaceX, Virgin and Orbital in that regard and feel these activities should have been done at least two decades ago. However, I do not see the commercial companies taking Americans to Mars or to the moons of Saturn within my lifetime and I doubt if they will take the true Research risks (technical and financial) to fly new concepts that have low confidence of return on investment. Even NASA, regarded as our prime Research agency has not recently shown a willingness to fly true Research concepts.

For years I have stated that a NASA return-to-moon effort must include true Research content, i.e. testing new concepts needed to enable forefront Exploration beyond the moon. The current Ares/Orion does not do that. While I have been critical of Constellation for that reason, I do not think that NASA should ‘give up’ on manned spaceflight, just that they should be doing it while meeting the 1) or 2) criteria above.

Some have guessed that my recent comments are based on my overall displeasure with the Obama Administration. they are not; however it does seem that the best technical minds in U.S. industry are still striving to find HOW America can continue to be “exceptional”, while the Administration does not want America to BE “exceptional”.

Burt Rutan


And now in its entirety, here is the letter from Dr. Rutan to Congressman Wolf.

Thomas M. Culligan
Congressional Appropriations Legislative Assistant
The Hon. Frank R. Wolf (VA-10)


I occasionally banter with my friend, Mike Griffin on subjects that  include golf, the AGW scare and NASA policy.  After sending him my latest tirade, he shared with me his recent letter to you regarding taxpayer-funded space research.  I promised him that I would send you my thoughts on the debate, which follow:

From my past comments on NASA’s post-mid-70s manned space efficiencies/accomplishments, an observer might think that I would applaud a decision to turn this important responsibility over to commercial developers.  However, he would be wrong.

No question, it would be good to see commercial companies quickly succeed at orbital access and to take that capability beyond low earth orbit.  However, I am fearful that the commercial guys will fail; i.e. they will do little more in my remaining lifetime than NASA accomplished in 3.5 years with Gemini in the mid 1960s.  That would be a very big
mistake for America to make, as we move into an era of real competition in space exploration as well as risk the loss of our leadership in nearly every other technical discipline.

Mike Griffin’s excellent statement says it best; “I too want, in the strongest possible terms, to have government policies which serve to stimulate private development of space. But at the same time, I too am reluctant — with an analogy to instrument flying — to give up an airport where I know I can get in on the approach, for one where I might”.

What I would like to see is a decade or two of overlap – an initial push in the commercial arena of manned spaceflight (Development programs, not Research programs), while NASA flies risky new ideas (read, true Research programs, giving at least a chance of discovering an important new Breakthrough), and at the same time pushes the forefront of Exploration beyond the earth’s moon.

Imagine how much better America could motivate our youth if we were spending the billions of Stimulus Package money on making real progressin our efforts to someday colonize off the planet.

Two years after Neil and Buzz landed on the moon, America led the world in awarding PhDs in science/engineering/math.  Today we are not even on the first or second page and most of our University’s technical graduates take their skills back to their own countries to compete with us. The motivation of our youth is the most important thing we do for our nation’s long-term security and prosperity.  NASA’s role in that can be as critical as it was in the 60s if the taxpayers fund true Research and Exploration.

The attachment is a photo I took at the Shuttle STS-130 launch - Caption: “Reaction when told about the President’s NASA directive to abandon manned spaceflight”.

As always, I am ok with the distribution of my thoughts without limitation.

While I usually offer candid remarks at the drop of the hat, I am not interested in Congressional testimony, since under duress I occasionally have been known to blurt out the truth.  I have no interest in being in the same room with John Holdren….. Taking a line from a very old play: ”I must turn away, least I soil my hands with the blood of a fool”

Burt Rutan


SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Preparing for Launch at Cape Canaveral

February 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle is now vertical at Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral. Following its mate to the transporter erector, Falcon 9 was rolled from the integration hangar to the launch pad where final checks of the pad hydraulic and pneumatic systems were completed.

Falcon 9 is undergoing a checkout of the critical flight connections including fuel, liquid oxygen, and gas pressure systems. Once all system interfaces are verified, the SpaceX launch team will execute a full tanking test of both first and second stages (wet dress) followed by a brief ~3.5 static fire of the first stage. SpaceX has not set specific dates for wet dress or static fire as schedule will be driven by the satisfactory completion of all test objectives and a thorough review of the data.

Credit SpaceX

Credit SpaceX


First-Of-Its-Kind NASA Program Will Benefit Science and Education, Stimulate Commercial Spaceflight

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Washington, D.C., February 18, 2010 – The Commercial Spaceflight Federation enthusiastically welcomes NASA’s announcement today that NASA will fund dozens of science and education payloads to fly on commercial suborbital vehicles built by companies including Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR Aerospace.  At the first annual Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced in her keynote speech today that President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request for NASA commits $75 million in funding over five years for the new Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research program (CRuSR).

“We are thrilled to see NASA recognizing the enormous potential of new commercial vehicles for science, research, and education,” said Mark Sirangelo, Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.  “NASA Deputy Administrator Garver’s announcement today means that hundreds of scientists, educators, and students will be able to fly payloads on these new commercial vehicles.”

“For the first time ever, NASA has put forward a commitment to dramatically expand the number of research and education payloads that fly into space,” said Dr. S. Alan Stern, chair of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s Suborbital Applications Researchers Group (SARG) and former NASA associate administrator for science.  “Since this new generation of commercial vehicles are low cost, NASA’s $75 million will open the floodgates for everyone from astronomers to high school classrooms to conduct real science in space.  This will be one of the best investments NASA has ever made.”

“For everyone who has dreamed of participating in the grand adventure of spaceflight, this $75 million commitment marks the dawn of a new space age,” added Stern.  “As the commercial space industry continues to grow, I expect that we will see increasing numbers of payloads and people flying to space.”

“I am pleased to see NASA’s recognition of the transformative potential of these new commercial vehicles,” stated Dr. Fred Tarantino, President and CEO of the Universities Space Research Association.  “The space science community is thrilled to see such a commitment to low-cost, reusable, and frequent access to space that will provide hands-on experience for students and change the way many space scientists operate.”

NASA is proposing to spend $15 million in each of five years from 2011-2015 for the CRuSR program, funds that will both go to universities and other research institutions to build science and education payloads, as well as being used to purchase flights on commercial suborbital vehicles.  The CRuSR program is based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in the heart of Silicon Valley.

The Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, a first-of-its-kind forum for bringing together scientists, educators, and vehicle developers to discuss potential research and education uses for commercial spacecraft, is being held in Boulder, Colorado and is co-organized by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF).


Letter To NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

February 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Civil Space Flight 

Last week 20 Republican and 7 Democrat congressmen sent a letter (click here to read the full text) to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in which they expressed grave concerns over actions and comments taken by the agency with regard to the Constellation program.

The President, in his FY2011 budget, has proposed that Project Constellation be canceled. This proposed budget must now go before the Congress, and until such time as it is either accepted or rejected by that body, NASA is obligated to carry out the existing program. The letter, however, claims that NASA has already taken steps to dismantle it, stating that “We have become aware of the formation by NASA Headquarters of at least five ‘tiger teams,’ the job of which is to shut down Constellation and to transition to the new program.” The letter firmly asks the agency to “immediately cease all activity of the tiger teams.”

The letter also objects to NASA’s use of the phrase “set aside” when referring to FY2010 Constellation funds and clearly sets out to “remind” the Administrator that “setting aside funds may be a direct violation of the Impoundment Control Act (as well as of the appropriations language for FY10).” This Act was specifically created to prevent any president from undoing that which the Congress passed; in other words, from bypassing the will of the people.

The signatories of the letter also uncovered “disturbing reports of verbal instructions to Program Managers to begin the shutdown of Constellation programs” now, ahead of any decision by the Congress. Given that the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY2010 expressly prohibits the termination of current programs, we’re left to wonder if this is an action born of ignorance or a deliberate attempt to circumvent Congress and dismantle Constellation to a point of no return where it would be too expensive to reactivate it.

How can these tactics be interpreted as anything other than conniving and underhanded? If the Administration is so confident that it has chosen the right path for the country, let it present its plan in the full light of day and allow the system to work. Pulling the pins out of Constellation to watch it fly apart at the seams into an irretrievable pile of rubble is callous and arrogant. Worse still, done unilaterally, it deprives the people of this country the right to choose for themselves.


Power From Space

February 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Since the 1960′s people have been talking about placing solar arrays in earth orbit that could collect solar radiation and beam it down to a receiving station on earth where it could be made available to consumers. And though there was great appeal to the idea of unlimited, clean energy, there were two problems with those initial plans that led the industry’s still birth: 1) The efficiency (the amount of solar radiation transformed into useful electricity compared to that falling on the collection surface) of solar panels in those days was quiet small; less than 10 percent, which necessitating extremely large solar panels, and 2) Too many people objected to the fact that the energy was to be beamed to earth in the form of microwaves. The fear was that microwaves would make the area around the ground-based collection station uninhabitable. As minimal a concern as that may seem, the idea was never able to overcome objections. Fast forward 4 decades, and much has changed.

Today solar panel efficiencies are exceeding 80 percent, and a subsidiary of Europe’s EADS aerospace giant, Astrium is now proposing to beam energy to earth not in the form of microwaves but rather along an infra-red laser beam. They claim such a system could provide 1 to 2 kilowatts per square meter of power and still be well within safety limits. “People could walk through a beam with that power, and birds could fly through it, without a problem,” according to the company’s Chief Technical Officer Robert Laine.

So why not just place solar panels on some deserted lot and bypass the whole, complicated idea of beaming it from space? Indeed many such arrangements do exist, but they are not without problems. For starters, the earth’s atmosphere absorbs much of the energy falling on it. The amount available above that atmosphere is far greater than at the surface. Second, there’s this pesky thing called night time. Flying in a geostationary orbit where it maintains its position over a fixed point on the earth, a collection station would be illuminated 24/7 (with the exception of brief outages during eclipse seasons around spring and fall equinoxes) and could therefore supply uninterrupted power.

It’s yet to be seen whether Astrium can pull this off. Unwilling to take this on by themselves, they’re currently seeking partners in Europe. But just imagine it, whomever brings this bright idea to its fruition will have in one fell swoop revolutionized power generation, bringing unlimited, clean power to the market. Now that’s what I call forward thinking.


Blue Collar Space

February 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Many articles on spacewalking astronauts for the International Space Station, including the most recent from the AP covering Expedition XXII, describe how astronauts become plumbers… or electricians, or what have you. Here’s a thought: instead of training astronauts to become plumbers, why not train plumbers to perform their profession in space? Call me crazy, but it would cost the taxpayers a great deal less, they’d get a plumber to do a plumbers job and plumbers everywhere would have a new source of potential jobs. And I have a sneaking suspicion there are more than a few plumbers out there who would jump at the chance to do what they do best in space.

The current culture supports a paradigm in which billions of dollars are spent training a PhD-centric astronaut corps (pronounced “core,” er hem) to do the work to which blue collar folks have dedicated themselves as their chosen vocation, one which has earned them a title just as noble as PhD: that of craftsman. The culture is changing, and so our paradigms should be re-examined, including this one.

The time for blue collar space jobs has arrived. As we see orbital operations shifting from NASA to the private sector over the next few years, these jobs will begin to appear. Call it a prognostication.

This image provided by NASA TV shows astronauts Robert Behnken, top, and Nicholas Patrick installing the Tranquility room to the International Space Station early Friday Feb. 12, 2010. The new room, named Tranquility, and domed lookout represent $400 million in home improvements. The lookout, with its seven windows, including the largest ever sent into space, already has astronauts salivating over the anticipated views of Earth. (AP Photo/NASA)


Changing Horses in Mid Stream

The Obama Administration’s proposed cancellation of NASA’s Constellation program to take astronauts back to the moon and beyond has unleashed a firestorm of emotional debate. Scientists, astronauts, politicians, bloggers and the general public are all weighing in on this unexpected turnabout. If the Administration’s proposed 2011 budget is passed by the Congress, Constellation will be scrapped in favor of funding commercial providers taking astronauts to the International Space Station. The frontier of deep space will be abandoned.

Over the past year, SpaceTalkNOW has argued against NASA’s exclusivity in manned space flight and in favor of a symbiosis between civil and commercial sectors. That message remains unchanged. Private industry can and should take over low earth orbit, thereby leaving NASA to concentrate on deep space beginning with the moon. Obama’s proposed budget for 2011 gives a much-needed and overdue boost to commercial, human space flight, but it does not provide for balance. It makes a radical swing to the opposite end of the spectrum and leaves the country with no long-term goal. Instead of building a bridge to low earth orbit and the International Space Station from which we can launch into the rest of the solar system, the plan is building a bridge to no where. Low earth orbit is merely the foothold with which to propel us to our real destination: deep space. Yet the President’s plan would make it the destination.

What we’ve been presented with by pundits on both sides of the fallacious civil-versus-commercial human space flight argument is a false dichotomy: the assertion that it must be either one or the other when in fact a third option is available. And its an option that is almost painfully obvious.

Our goal as a nation should not be low earth orbit; it should be the frontier, which now begins at the moon. Exploration of our nearest neighbor in space and cultivating its rich and abundant set of natural resources will benefit all of mankind and create incalculable opportunities. That is a worthy goal for our national space program.

In support of that goal, the commercial sector should provide the necessary orbiting infrastructure including transport services, fuel delivery and storage, cargo delivery and warehousing, lodging and food service to name only a few.

It’s a simple concept: NASA serves as pathfinder, continuously pushing back the frontier, and the private sector follows behind, transforming each beachhead and supplying the needed materiel for the conquest of the next.

Some are arguing that the proposed budget supports human space flight to the frontier by creating more robotic, lunar precursor missions. But without the stated goal of sending people there, one can hardly argue that these are precursors at all. Without deep space as the stated and programatic goal of NASA, we’re left like the Spirit Mars Rover, spinning our wheels and going no where.

The President should reconsider his proposed budget. Leave in support for the private sector. Yes, increase spending for commercial crew, but also realize that it is not an either/or proposition. Civil and private sectors must work together, in tandem, and in support of deep space as our destination. Canceling Constellation removes the reason for a build up of commercial capability and makes about as much sense as funding a massive, new buggy whip industry.


Oppose The Cancellation of Project Constellation

February 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Civil Space Flight has posted a letter, which fully supports, to oppose President Obama’s proposed scrapping of NASA’s Project Constellation. Go to this link to download and send a copy to your congressman. This is an important issue, and if you agree that the US must keep its leadership in human space exploration, please take the time to send this letter and add your voice.

One person can make a difference and every person should try.”  - John F. Kennedy


New Space Policy Cedes Moon To China, Space Station To Russia, And Liberty To The Ages

February 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Civil Space Flight 

by Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut

The Administration finally has announced its formal retreat on American Space Policy after a year of morale destroying clouds of uncertainty.  The lengthy delay, the abandonment of human exploration, and the wimpy, un-American thrust of the proposed budget indicates that the Administration does not understand, or want to acknowledge, the essential role space plays in the future of the United States and liberty.  This continuation of other apologies and retreats in the global arena would cede the Moon to China, the American Space Station to Russia, and assign liberty to the ages.

The repeated hypocrisy of this President continues to astound.  His campaign promises endorsed what he now proposes to cancel. His July celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the first Moon landing now turns out to be just a photo op with the Apollo 11 crew.  With one wave of a budget wand, the Congress, the NASA family, and the American people are asked to throw their sacrifices and achievements in space on the ash heap of history.

Expenditures of taxpayer provided funds on space related activities find constitutional justification in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, that gives Congress broad power to ”promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts.”  In addition, the Article I power and obligation to “provide for the Common Defence” relates directly to the geopolitical importance of space exploration at this frontier of human endeavor.  A space program not only builds wealth, economic vitality, and educational momentum through technology and discovery, but it also sets the modern geopolitical tone for the United States to engage friends and adversaries in the world.  For example, in the 1980s, the dangerous leadership of the former Soviet Union believed America would be successful in creating a missile defense system because we succeeded in landing on the Moon and they had not. Dominance in space was one of the major factors leading to the end of the Cold War.

With a new Cold War looming before us, involving the global ambitions and geopolitical challenge of the national socialist regime in China, President George W. Bush put America back on a course to maintain space dominance. What became the Constellation Program comprised his January 14, 2004 vision of returning Americans and their partners to deep space by putting astronauts back on the Moon, going on to Mars, and ultimately venturing beyond.  Unfortunately, like all Administrations since Eisenhower and Kennedy, the Bush Administration lost perspective about space.  Inadequate budget proposals and lack of Congressional leadership and funding during Constellation’s formative years undercut Administrator Michael Griffin’s effort to implement the Program after 2004.  Delays due to this under-funding have rippled through national space capabilities until we must retire the Space Shuttle without replacement access to space.  Now, we must pay at least $50 million per seat for the Russians to ferry Americans and others to the International Space Station.  How the mighty have fallen.

Not only did Constellation never receive the Administration’s promised funding, but the Bush Administration and Congress required NASA 1) to continue the construction of the International Space Station (badly under-budgeted by former NASA Administrator O’Keefe, the OMB, and ultimately by the Congress), 2) to accommodate numerous major over-runs in the science programs (largely protected from major revision or cancellation by narrow Congressional interests), 3) to manage the Agency without hire and fire authority (particularly devastating to the essential hiring of young engineers), and 4) to assimilate, through added delays, the redirection and inflation-related costs of several Continuing Resolutions.  Instead of fixing this situation, the current Administration let go Administrator Griffin, the best engineering Administrator in NASA’s history, and now has cancelled Constellation.  As a consequence, long-term access of American astronauts to space rests on the untested success of a plan for the “commercial” space launch sector to meet the increasingly risk adverse demands of space flight.

Histories of nations tell us that an aggressive program to return Americans permanently to deep space must form an essential component of national policy.  Americans would find it unacceptable, as well as devastating to liberty, if we abandon leadership in space to the Chinese, Europe, or any other nation or group of nations.  Potentially equally devastating to billions of people would be loss of freedom’s access to the energy resources of the Moon as fossil fuels diminish and populations and demand increase.

In that harsh light of history, it is frightening to contemplate the long-term, totally adverse consequences to the standing of the United States in modern civilization if the current Administration’s decision to abandon deep space holds.  Even a commitment to maintain the International Space Station using commercial launch assets constitutes a dead-end for Americans in space.  At some point, now set at the end of this decade, the $150 billion Station becomes a dead-end and would be abandoned to the Russians or just destroyed, ending America’s human space activities entirely.

What, then, should be the focus of national space policy in order to maintain leadership in deep space?  Some propose that we concentrate only on Mars.  Without the experience of returning to the Moon, however, we will not have the engineering, operational, or physiological insight for many decades to either fly to Mars or land there.  Others suggest going to an asteroid. As important as diversion of an asteroid from collision with the Earth someday may be, just going there hardly stimulates “Science and the useful Arts” anything like a permanent American settlement on the Moon!  Other means exist, robots and meteorites, for example, to obtain most or all of the scientific value from a human mission to an asteroid.  In any event, returning to the Moon inherently creates capabilities for reaching asteroids to study or divert them, as the case may be.

Returning to the Moon and to deep space constitutes the right and continuing space policy choice for the Congress of the United States.  It compares in significance to Jefferson’s dispatch of Lewis and Clark to explore the Louisiana Purchase. The lasting significance to American growth and survival of Jefferson’s decision cannot be questioned.  Human exploration of space embodies the same basic instincts as the exploration of the West – the exercise of freedom, betterment of one’s conditions, and curiosity about nature.  Such instincts lie at the very core of America’s unique and special society of immigrants.

Over the last 150,000 years or more, human exploration of Earth has yielded new homes, livelihoods, know how, and resources as well as improved standards of living and increased family security.  Government has directly and indirectly played a role in encouraging exploration efforts.  Private groups and individuals take additional initiatives to explore newly discovered or newly accessible lands and seas.  Based on their specific historical experience, Americans can expect benefits comparable to those sought and won in the past also will flow from their return to the Moon, future exploration of Mars, and the long reach beyond. To realize such benefits, however, Americans must continue as the leader of human activities in space. No one else will hand them to us. Other than buying our national debt, China does not believe in welfare for the U.S.

With a permanent resumption of the exploration of deep space, one thing is certain: our efforts will be as significant as those of our ancestors as they migrated out of Africa and into a global habitat. Further, a permanent human presence away from Earth provides another opportunity for the expansion of free institutions, with all their attendant rewards, as humans face new situations and new individual and societal challenges.

Returning to the Moon first and as soon as possible meets the requirements for an American space policy that maintains deep space leadership, as well as providing major new scientific returns.  Properly conceived and implemented, returning to the Moon prepares the way to go to and land on Mars.  This also can provide a policy in which freedom-loving peoples throughout the world can participate as active partners.

The Congressionally approved Constellation Program, properly funded, contains most of the technical elements necessary to implement a policy of deep space leadership, particularly because it includes development of a heavy lift launch vehicle, the Ares V. In addition, Constellation includes a large upper stage for transfer to the Moon and other destinations, two well conceived spacecraft for transport and landing of crews on the lunar surface, strong concepts for exploration and lunar surface systems, and enthusiastic engineers and managers to make it happen if adequately supported. The one major missing component of a coherent and sustaining deep space systems architecture may be a well-developed concept for in-space refueling of spacecraft and upper rockets stages. The experience base for developing in-space refueling capabilities clearly exists.

Again, if we abandon leadership in deep space to any other nation or group of nations, particularly a non-democratic regime, the ability for the United States and its allies to protect themselves and liberty will be at great risk and potentially impossible. To others would accrue the benefits – psychological, political, economic, and scientific – that the United States harvested as a consequence of Apollo’s success 40 years ago.  This lesson has not been lost on our ideological and economic competitors.

American leadership absent from space?  Is this the future we wish for our progeny?  I think not.  Again, the 2010 elections offer the way to get back on the right track.


NASA Unveils Commercial Human Spaceflight Development Agreements and Announces $50 Million in Seed Funding for Commercial Crew

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Washington, D.C., February 3, 2010 – At a National Press Club event to “introduce new commercial space pioneers,” the President’s Science Advisor John Holdren and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden yesterday praised the seven winning companies of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) and Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) competitions.  This event followed the announcement on February 1 by the White House that NASA would use commercial spaceflight providers to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.

The President’s Science Advisor praised the “complementary strength between NASA and the private sector in order to make human access both to low-Earth orbit and beyond to deep space faster, safer and more affordable.”  NASA Administrator Bolden added that with regard to commercial spaceflight, “It’s not a new idea, but rather, an idea whose time has come.  The future is unfolding before us now, and it couldn’t be more exciting… Kids will be able to realistically envision a career that involves space, either going there or using it.”

Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, added, “The President’s new commercial crew initiative is on course to accelerate the growth of a vibrant 21st century commercial spaceflight industry, creating thousands of high-tech jobs and inspiring a new generation.”

Executives from Sierra Nevada Corporation, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin, Orbital Sciences, Paragon Space Development Corporation, and SpaceX came to Washington DC to attend the event.  Introducing these seven companies and their executives at the press event, Administrator Bolden stated, “These are the faces of the new frontier… We will certainly be adding to this group in the near future.”

SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are the funded participants in NASA’s ongoing COTS program for commercial resupply of the Space Station, and Sierra Nevada Corporation, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin, and Paragon Space Development Corporation were awarded $50 million in seed money for commercial crew through the CCDev program, intended as the precursor to a full $6 billion Commercial Crew Program proposed by NASA.  Both the CCDev and COTS programs are commercially structured so that NASA pays only when performance milestones are met.

Alexander added, “To have a large and diverse group of companies present at today’s event, including both established contractors and newer entrants, emphasizes that U.S. industry is ready to handle the task of commercial human spaceflight.  Commercial spaceflight means growing an entire industry that will generate returns to our economy and allow America to stop sending billions of dollars to Russia to fly our astronauts.”

In addition to other companies that are developing commercial space vehicles, the seven companies featured in the press conference were:

  • Sierra Nevada Corporation, which will receive $20 million in CCDev funds for development milestones for a seven-person spacecraft known as Dreamchaser which will launch on Atlas V.
  • The Boeing Company, which will receive $18 million in CCDev funds for development milestones for a seven-person crew capsule for low Earth orbit transportation.  Boeing partnered with Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing a series of habitable orbital complexes with two prototypes already in orbit.
  • United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin that operates the Atlas and Delta rockets, which will receive $6.7 million in milestone-based CCDev funds to begin developing an emergency detection system for ULA launch systems.
  • Blue Origin, which will receive $3.7 million in milestone-based CCDev funds to develop a composite crew test module and a launch escape system for its commercial spaceflight vehicle.
  • Orbital Sciences, which has been awarded $171 million in milestone-based COTS funds and received a follow-on contract for International Space Station missions, and is preparing its Taurus II rocket and Cygnus capsule for initial launches in 2011.
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation, which will receive $1.4 million in milestone-based CCDev funds for the development of an air revitalization system for use in crewed spacecraft.
  • SpaceX, which has been awarded $278 million in milestone-based COTS funds and received a follow-on contract for International Space Station missions, and is preparing its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule for initial launches this year.

About the Commercial Spaceflight Federation

The mission of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight, pursue ever higher levels of safety, and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry.  CSF member organizations include commercial spaceflight developers, operators, and spaceports.  The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is governed by a board of directors, composed of the member companies’ CEO-level officers and entrepreneurs. For more information please visit or contact Executive Director John Gedmark at or at 202.349.1121.


SpaceX Completes Dragon Spacecraft Cargo Loading Milestone In Preparation For Delivery Services To International Space Station

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Hawthorne, CA (February 03, 2010) – Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) recently conducted a three-day long demonstration of cargo loading and unloading procedures for its Dragon spacecraft, which NASA has contracted to provide delivery services to the International Space Station (ISS) starting in 2010.

SpaceX hosted a group of NASA personnel at its corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, including astronauts Marsha Ivins and Megan McArthur, and other key personnel from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The tests covered a range of procedures using actual NASA cargo modules, in a variety of standard sizes, including powered cargo modules that provide temperature control for sensitive items such as medical and biological samples during their journey to the ISS, and return to Earth. Dragon is currently one of the only spacecraft in the world capable of transmitting status on environment-sensitive cargo back to Earth during transit to the ISS.

SpaceX performed the tests in an actual flight Dragon spacecraft outfitted with cargo racks, stowage lockers, as well as interior lighting, telemetry and environmental systems, as will be employed while Dragon is berthed at the ISS.

“SpaceX was honored to host the NASA crew, and pleased by their positive feedback and remarks,” said John Couluris, SpaceX Director of Mission Operations. “We look forward to the day when the first of many Dragons arrive at the ISS delivering actual cargo in support of continued ISS operations.”

Under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, SpaceX will perform three flights of the Dragon spacecraft to demonstrate delivery of cargo to the ISS as well as returning cargo to Earth. Following those flights, SpaceX will begin the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, conducting a minimum of 12 cargo flights between 2010 and 2015 with a guaranteed minimum of 20,000 kg to be carried to the ISS.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is a medium-to-heavy lift, two-stage launch vehicle capable of lifting approximately 11 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO) and in excess of 4.5 tons to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). Designed to the highest levels of reliability and performance, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft were selected by NASA to resupply the ISS when the Space Shuttle retires.

Loading a large M03 standard cargo module into the Dragon spacecraft via the overhead hatch (top of capsule). Credit: SpaceX

A SpaceX engineer installs a Single Cargo Transfer Bag into a storage compartment aboard the Dragon spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX

About SpaceX

SpaceX is developing a family of launch vehicles and spacecraft intended to increase the reliability and reduce the cost of both manned and unmanned space transportation, ultimately by a factor of ten. With the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 vehicles, SpaceX offers highly reliable/cost-efficient launch capabilities for spacecraft insertion into any orbital altitude and inclination. Starting in 2010, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will provide Earth-to-LEO transport of pressurized and unpressurized cargo, including resupply to the International Space Station.

Founded in 2002, SpaceX is a private company owned by management and employees, with minority investments from Founders Fund and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. The SpaceX team now numbers nearly 900, with corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, California. For more information about the Falcon family of vehicles and the Dragon spacecraft, please visit


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