In Historic First, Three Scientists to Fly on Commercial Spacecraft

Washington, D.C., Monday, February 28, 2011 – Three scientists, including a former NASA executive, will become some of the first scientists to fly on a commercial spacecraft – and they will fly multiple times – under the terms of two funded agreements announced between the nonprofit Southwest Research Institute and two commercial spacecraft providers, Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace.

The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), a nonprofit research institute with annual revenue exceeding $500 million, will purchase a total of 8 to 17 scientific research flights on two vehicles – Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx Mark I – to fly both scientists and scientific payloads to the upper atmosphere and space.  The scientists selected for the flights are Dr. Alan Stern, Dr. Dan Durda, and Dr. Cathy Olkin, and the science payloads will include biomedical, microgravity science, and astronomical imaging projects.  All three scientists selected have trained for suborbital spaceflight aboard zero-G aircraft, in NASTAR centrifuges and aboard Starfighter F-104 jet fighters in the last year.

Dr. Stern, the former head of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, stated, “We at SwRI are very strong believers in the transformational power of commercial, next-generation suborbital vehicles to advance many kinds of research.  We also believe that by putting scientists in space with their experiments, researchers can achieve better results at lower costs and a higher probability of success than with many old-style automated experiments.”

George Whitesides, President and CEO of Virgin Galactic said, “This agreement signals the enormous scientific potential of the Virgin spaceflight system. Virgin Galactic will be able to offer researchers flights to space that are unprecedented in frequency and cost. Science flights will be an important growth area for the company in the years to come, building on the strong commercial success already demonstrated by deposits received from over 400 individuals for Virgin’s space experience.”

XCOR Aerospace’s COO, Andrew Nelson, stated, “When someone issues a commercial contract with their own money, this means something,” and XCOR’s chief executive officer, Jeff Greason, added, “I look forward to the pioneering work this partnership will achieve.”

Commercial Spaceflight Federation Executive Director John Gedmark added,  “This is a historic moment for spaceflight — a scientific research institution is spending its own money to send its scientists to space.  I expect that these scientists will be the first of many to fly to space commercially.  As the scientific community realizes that they can put payloads and people into space at unprecedented low costs, the floodgates will open even wider.”

Dr. Dan Durda, one of the Southwest Research Institute scientists selected to fly, said, “We’re another step closer to the era of routine ‘field work’ in space research.  More and more researchers will soon fly with their own experiments in space, and do it regularly enough to allow the important advances that come with iterative investigations. I’m looking forward to that future and helping it become a reality.”

The announcements come as more than 300 scientists, educators, engineers, and students are registered to attend the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference which began today in Orlando, Florida at the University of Central Florida, to discuss the topic of scientific applications of commercial suborbital spacecraft.  The conference runs through March 2nd.

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.  The Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s member companies, which include commercial spaceflight developers, operators, spaceports, suppliers, and service providers, are creating thousands of high-tech jobs nationwide, working to preserve American leadership in aerospace through technology innovation, and inspiring young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. For more information please visit www.commercialspaceflight.org or contact Executive Director John Gedmark at john@commercialspaceflight.org or at 202.349.1121.

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Former Senator Schmitt Advocates A National Energy Plan As Constitutionally Mandated

February 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Off-Earth Resources 

The constitutional mandate for a rational, scientific, and economically sound national energy plan lies in its close modern relationship to the constitutionally mandated “common Defence”.  Dependence on foreign sources of oil, and therefore transportation fuels, limits both near and long-term national security options. That dependence also creates an economic burden to our economy that restricts the liberty of Americans and their 9th Amendment guarantee of the pursuit of happiness.

Dependence on imported oil removes the defensive and foreign policy leverage needed to prevent attacks by terrorist states.  Imports subsidize the financial supporters of terrorism. Dependence has the further effect of giving the United States no influence over the price it pays for oil.  If the price of oil came under the direct economic influence of the United States, for example, Iran would have great difficulty affording the development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

Dependence on oil and gasoline imports also gives China further means to intimidate our national leaders into acquiescence to its continuing ambition for international dominance.  China’s rapidly growing economy has a major influence on world energy supply and cost, competing directly with our needs.  Cold War II has begun; however, it is being fought on an economic and energy front as well as on a military deterrence front.  On this point, China’s rapidly developing space capabilities and its expressed interest in lunar helium-3 energy resources cannot be ignored.

Many varied elements are necessary to a long-range plan that would ultimately provide for energy independence and a more stable economy.  A scientifically and economically based, long-range plan also would provide far more benefit to the preservation of the environment and natural resources than possible today.

In the near term, Congress must take back the control of regulatory laws it has transferred to the Executive Branch, particularly those rules that prevent attaining energy independence from commercially viable natural energy resources.  Closely tied to independence are the facilities necessary to refine domestic crude oil into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.  The One House Legislative Veto described previously in these essays [link] constitutes a constitutional means for the Congress to control rule making delegated to the Executive.

President Obama’s continuing statements and restrictive actions notwithstanding, the only commercially viable natural resource that currently offers an unsubsidized path to independence from imported oil is domestically accessible crude oil along with the domestic refineries necessary to create fuel oil, diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel.  Natural gas offers some potential to reduce imports; however, the use of tax credits or direct subsidies of the initial capital costs for fleet or aircraft conversions to natural gas, or even personal automobile conversions, should come with payback provisions as those  conversions realize long-term economies.

To fully understand the potential and challenges of gaining near-term energy independence, industry, national, and state policy makers require a more complete understanding of the potential resources of oil and natural gas available beneath public lands and in off-shore areas.  A rapid, cooperative industry-federal-state scientific assessment of those potential resources would provide the knowledge necessary to evaluate the private investments and national enabling policies necessary to achieve and maintain independence.

Research and technology development aimed at future commercially viable alternative portable fuels should focus on the following: coal liquids, ethanol from nonfood crops, and algal bio-diesel, and water-derived hydrogen from catalytic systems energized by the sun or by waste heat from needed power plants. Significant historical and current technological progress has been made with regard to these fuels; however, commercial viability must include production costs low enough to enable the creation of convenient and cost-effective fuel delivery infrastructures.  Battery-based systems do not constitute a viable, broadly applicable alternative portable drive system due to their very low, coal- or uranium-to-power-train total efficiency, as well as their charging inconvenience.

Major solar energy systems such a large-scale wind and solar electric plants are far from being competitive without major subsidies from taxpayers or ratepayers.  For these systems to have any hope of being practical contributors to the national energy mix, a significant technology development effort must be undertaken by industry. Due to the great competitive gulf between these systems and standard coal and nuclear systems, it is questionable if the federal government should be funding a new round of technology development.  Many more critical energy initiatives require urgent attention.

Other essays in this series [links] have made the scientific case that climate change largely results from natural phenomenon and that attempts to reduce the very small human induced component to such change will have little practical effect.  At the same time, misguided political efforts to control climate change unconstitutionally restrict the liberties of Americans.  On the other hand, even if not persuaded by the scientific evidence against human-caused climate change, the replacement of end-of-life coal-fired power plants with advanced nuclear plants constitutes the best of all economic and environmental worlds.  The first step in such replacement should be the reform and streamlining of regulations governing nuclear plant construction.  If that is done, and the time necessary to construct plants is halved, investment capital will follow the demand without any need for loan guarantees or subsidies.

At the same time as America should be moving toward nuclear power as the source of most of its electricity, the effort to find underground repositories for the burial of spent nuclear fuel rods should be abandoned. Monitored, retrievable, above ground storage makes much more sense in the long-term.  Future reprocessing of these rods will provide additional fuel for electrical power generation as well as numerous useful isotopes for medical and industrial applications.  The actual useless waste, that is, the much reduced, left over high-level radioisotopes, ultimately can be changed (transmuted) into stable isotopes or easily confined short-lived radioisotopes.

Reprocessing of nuclear fuel rods and transmutation of the remaining high-level radioactive waste will require significant new investment by industry if allowed by federal authorities.  Although defense-related spent fuel rods are currently reprocessed, and France reprocesses their civil reactor fuels, commercial reprocessing development in the United States was terminated by the Carter Administration.  It should be restarted, immediately. Transmutation of actual waste from reprocessing can be done most efficiently by exposure of radioisotopes to energetic protons produced by helium-3 fusion systems.  Until reprocessing and transmutation technologies have been developed to a commercial level of readiness, above ground, spent fuel rod storage is the most practical solution to this contentious issue.

In the longer term, the development of modular nuclear breeder systems, high temperature gas reactors, thorium-fueled reactors, and lunar helium-3 fusion should be part of the mix of systems examined by robust research and technology development programs. Government, industry, and academia should be mobilized into joint technology development efforts not unlike those that made American aeronautics the envy of the world in the 20th Century. Unfortunately, inherent scientific, engineering, capital costs, and waste disposal issues mean that the billions spent on pursuing tritium-fueled fusion will not succeed in developing a commercially viable fusion power system.

A central underlying issue in the implementation of a defense-oriented national energy plan continues to be the lack of both objectivity and quality in the American educational system [links].  From beginning to end, most young people now miss both the essential foundations of history, constitutional government, and science and mathematics necessary to participate in the implementation of such a plan. No energy plan, much less our national defense can be successful unless the States begin to fully live up to their 10th Amendment responsibilities in education.  As during the height of World War II and the Cold War, the Federal Government only should be a non-controlling partner in the funding of those elements of science and engineering education essential to the “common Defence” but no more than this if liberty is to be preserved.

Previous Congresses and Administrations have not upheld their constitutional mandate to “provide for the common Defence” relative to energy and instead have used politically motivated legislation and regulation to prevent the private sector from providing for the nation’s critical energy needs.  This neglect has led to a national security crisis through progressively increased dependence on foreign sources of oil as well as other strategic resources.  The Constitution requires that there be a concerted and immediate federal focus on energy independence.  This is not what the Founders would have desired, but past neglect means no choice remains other than capitulation to the economic and military intimidation of the enemies of liberty.

*****

Harrison H. Schmitt is a former United States Senator from New Mexico as well as a geologist and Apollo 17 Astronaut.  He currently is an aerospace and private enterprise consultant and a member of the new Committee of Correspondence.

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Conservative, Free-Market Leaders Call for Competitive Market in U.S. Spaceflight

February 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Competitive Space Task Force Unveils Framework for American Leadership, Innovation in Emerging Space Economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – February 8, 2011 – The Competitive Space Task Force, a coalition of fiscal conservatives and free-market leaders, unveiled today its strategy for creating a free and competitive market for spaceflight and space services enabling the country to recapture the imagination and innovation of America’s space program and foster a new entrepreneurial spirit in the emerging Space Economy. The Task Force unveiled its core strategy and principles today at a press conference in the hearing room of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Retired Congressman and former Chairman of the House Science Committee Robert S. Walker remarked, “The Space Economy is emerging as the next great frontier for economic expansion and U.S. leadership. If we really want to ‘win the future’, we cannot abandon our commitment to space exploration and human spaceflight. The fastest path to space is not through Moscow, but through the American entrepreneur.”

In recent years, between the long-planned retirement of the Space Shuttle and the cancellation of Constellation and NASA’s troubled Ares rocket program, the U.S. has grown increasingly reliant on the Russian Soyuz for transportation to and from the International Space Station costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over just the next few years.

Rather than funding the Russian space program, the U.S. could be creating jobs at home by relying instead on America’s private space industry. America’s dependence on the Russian program is complicated by our foreign policy as we seek to discourage the Russians from aiding U.S. adversaries in the development of nuclear weaponry and missile technology.

Said Rand Simberg, Chairman of the Competitive Space Task Force, “America cannot simply sit in the passenger seat and expect to lead. We need to pilot the ship. We need to lead the way.”

According to the Task Force, an open and free market for both space transportation and services would fuel innovation, lower costs and create jobs. Recommendations to Congress include:

  • Accelerating efforts to stimulate new American industrial competitive crew transportation systems to low Earth orbit;
  • Opening up the U.S. segment of the International Space Station to the fullest possible economic utilization by the U.S. private sector;
  • Utilizing fixed-price, pay-for-performance contracts to reward private investment and innovation in human exploration and spaceflight projects;
  • And dramatically reducing the costs of NASA programs while opening up new commercial opportunities for private business in space.

The flawed assumption in the management of America’s space program, according to Task Force leaders, is that centralized five and ten-year plans through cost-plus contracts to selected contractors is the most efficient way to innovate and compete with the global space community. While the Task Force acknowledges this approach worked for the Apollo program, they point to recent successes and innovation in commercial space transportation, increased international competition and the limitations on government funding as catalysts for a new decentralized and entrepreneurial approach.

Said Simberg, “Government can and should create a framework for American industry and individuals to pursue their ideals and dreams, and space should be no exception. By opening space up to the American people and their enterprises, NASA can ignite an economic, technological, and innovation renaissance, and the United States will regain its rightful place as the world leader in space.”

About Competitive Space Task Force

Competitive Space Task Force (“CSTF”) is a coalition of leading conservative and free-market thinkers from organizations committed to creating a free and competitive market for U.S. spaceflight and space services, reducing government waste at NASA, and reclaiming America’s proud legacy of achievement in human spaceflight and technology innovation. Members of the Task Force include the Honorable Robert Walker; Competitive Enterprise Institute; Citizens Against Government Waste; TechFreedom; Andrew Langer, Institute for Liberty; Robert Poole, Reason Foundation; Ed Hudgins, The Atlas Society; and James Muncy, Space Frontier Foundation. Rand Simberg of the Competitive Enterprise Institute serves as Chairman of the Task Force.

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