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Lesson 6: Archive Notes April 7, 2010

Posted by drspaceshow in Uncategorized.

Space Show Classroom Lesson 6:  U.S. Commercial and NewSpace Launch Industry

 Tuesday, April 6, 2010

 Archive Notes and Program Information

 The Space Show Classroom Lesson 6 can be downloaded or heard at:


 Guests: CLASSROOM; Dr. Jeff Foust, Dr. Jim Logan, Dr. John Jurist, Dr. David Livingston. Topics: U.S. Commercial and NewSpace Launch Industry.  Welcome to The Space Show Classroom Lesson 6 on the U.S. Commercial and New Space Launch Industry. Please remember that if you have questions or comments regarding this program or for any of the participants, post them on the Classroom blog at https://spaceshowclassroom.wordpress.com under Lesson 6 archives.  Emails sent to me will be posted on the blog on your behalf.  We started our discussion with Dr. Foust providing us with an overview of the U.S. Commercial Launch industry, starting with United Launch Alliance (ULA) which is a partnership with Boeing and Lockheed Martin making both the Atlas and Delta rockets.  As you will hear, Dr. Foust did a superb job taking us through the launch companies and their rockets, explaining their missions, reliability, and costs.  He included the Space Shuttle as our only human spaceflight launch system.  We talked about markets and emerging markets and compared different rockets and options to the domestic trucking transportation system, exploring with our panel what it would take to have a truly commercial launch industry as we do a trucking and other commercial industries.  Jeff outlined the needs of the three main segments in the industry, military, civilian, and commercial.  This is a most important discussion.  We then talked about how launchers are optimized.  As you will hear, they are not optimized for cost but instead for schedule and reliability.  Jeff clearly explained why this is so for each segment and why cost is not the primary issue.  We then applied this analysis to the Falcon 9 and its potential commercial market, and as you will hear, Dr. Logan questioned if there was really a commercial market if the only customer was government.  See what you think of this discussion and how Jeff responded to Jim Logan’s questions in this area.  This discussion led us to explore exactly what the new commercial markets for rockets might be and we focused in on Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) and what that might eventually lead to for emerging markets.  The elasticity of the launch market was analyzed and our panel considered the impact of lowering launch costs without a corresponding increase in demand.  Jeff cited examples in COMSAT launches per year. In the end, Dr. Logan suggested all of this might just be a zero sum game.  Post your thoughts on this on the blog.  Other potential markets were mentioned such as spacecraft servicing missions, propellant depots and more.  Listen to what our panel members said about this.  Clearly, there are unanswered questions.  As our first segment came to a close, Dr. Foust went through a brief EELV history in response to questions from Trent in Australia.  We started the segment with the oil tanker and liability question raised by Joe in Houston.  The NewSpace launch industry and its potential was next up for discussion.  Jeff took us through the various NewSpace launch companies and provided us with current updates on most of them. John in Atlanta brought up the idea of the space manufacturing business as a market driver.  Listen to what our panel had to say about this.  We also talked about ITAR reform and potential ITAR reform impact on the launch market and the NewSpace Industry.  We digressed from the launch industry with a series of questions about artificial or partial gravity and the need for a centrifuge in space to determine what is actually needed for long duration spaceflights.  Dr. Logan brought us up to date with some information about NASA work in this area.  Somehow this took us to discussing zero gravity surgery and we learned about simulated experiments using the zero g planes.  Later in the segment, we talked about different launch technology as well as heavy lift.  VASIMIR came up as did the nuclear rocket, space elevator, and heavy lift, including Direct 3.0.  Jeff had much to say about heavy lift regardless of the vehicle design or concept used.  He said if space exploration is the goal, its essential.  If space exploration beyond LEO is not the goal, heavy lift is not so important at this time.  At the end of the program, we talked about the possibility of extending the Space Shuttle beyond the announced retirement.  Dr. Foust suggested it might be extended by a few flights but nobody knew for sure.  Dr. Logan expressed a firm opinion supporting its retirement.  You do not want to miss this discussion.  Dr. Foust concluded this Classroom program by saying we were in very interesting times with the potential to have a real paradigm shift in how space is viewed and how we access space.  At this time, the verdict is out on the success of such a paradigm shift.  Again, any comments or questions you might have for any and all panel members are to be posted on The Space Show Classroom Blog under Lesson 6 Archive Notes at https://spaceshowclassroom.wordpress.com. Emails sent to me will be uploaded to the blog under your name.


1. Andy Hill - April 8, 2010

An interesting discussion of current launcher capabilities. I would have liked to have heard more about sounding rocket technology and whether this could be expanded or possibly extended for orbital launches for small payloads such as cubesats. The smallest rockets currently flying in the US market have a payload capacity of 500kg or more to LEO, this seems overly large for cubesats which can have a mass typically of 10s of kgs is there a market for a much smaller/cheaper launcher for these payloads. This would remove the necessity of a lot of payloads waiting to be included as a secondary payload with a larger craft.

2. David Livingston - April 8, 2010

Hi Andy:
Thanks for the note and the question you sent in advance of the program. I suspect that sounding rockets will not prove to be a viable path to orbital vehicles, launches and payloads. I think there would be far more efficient, cost effective, and capable rockets for orbital launches. Remember, the characteristics needed for orbital versus suborbital are huge. Its not a baby step from suborbital to orbital, its a huge step re energy, heat, etc. I suggest there are better vehicles to use for evolving to orbital rather than a sounding rocket. That said, there are some capable sounding rockets that might make an interesting first stage but I still think there are better paths to orbit than doing something based on a sounding rocket. Let’s see if the others from the Classroom program have something else to add and contribute to this discussion.


3. John - April 8, 2010

In the 1950’s, the Vanguard launch vehicle’s first stage was evolved from the Viking sounding rocket and the second stage was evolved from the Aerobee sounding rocket. However, launching smallsats as secondary payloads on larger vehicles is cheaper than a special-purpose launcher for putting very small payloads into LEO. The business case might just possibly close for some military applications if much of the development costs could be picked up outside of the developing entity’s budget. I recently suggested (see, for example, J. M. Jurist: Commercial suborbital sounding rocket market: A role for reusable launch vehicles? Astropolitics, 7(#1):32-49 (Jan.-Apr. 09)) that a university consortium similar to those used to develop and operate particle accelerators and telescopes might be able to develop small reusable sounding rockets for academic use, but the business case is hampered by the availability of inexpensive solid-fueled missile motors and by the current low launch rates for nonmilitary sounding rockets. The end result of this proposal was that I was vigorously attacked by the extreme elements lurking in the space advocacy blogosphere.

4. Andy Hill - April 9, 2010

If Vanguard’s first stage evolved from a sounding rocket then perhaps this might be a route to develop a new small launcher. Vanguard’s X-405 first stage engine had an Isp of 270 (sea level) and a mass of 191kg, todays engines are lighter and more efficient so would produce a lighter vehicle able to carry a slightly heavier payload.

Isn’t the DoD’s responsive space effort aimed at just such a vehicle or are they looking for something a little larger?

I’m not sure what such a vehicle might cost to operate but if it was cheap enough (though probably still more than a secondary payload flight) there might be sufficient customers to make a business case. Has anyone ever done an assessment for small launchers with a 50kg-150kg payload capability to find a price point where there would be sufficient market to support them? Or is the market fairly static and launch price doesn’t affect the amount of demand for extra launches?

Thank you for the effort and time you are all putting into these classroom programs.

5. John - April 9, 2010

DoD’s responsive space effort is indeed directed at small launchers but the funding and program management appears to be rather unstable as needs are redefined. My take on all this is that the price/demand curve for small payloads is currently inelastic and any attempts to establish an elastic limit are nothing but guesswork. The inexpensive and responsive launch approach that intrigues me is that of Microcosm/Scorpius. They propose modular first and second stages with 6 modules in the first stage and one in the second. Each module would consist of composite extremely light weight tanks and pressure fed ablative motors fuelled with LOX and kerosine. They also suggest using Tridyne for pressurization, Finally, they have flown modules at White Sands.

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