Updates From Blue Origin, Space Angels, Exos Aerospace & More

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference was held in Colorado earlier this week. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks tweeted the sessions:

Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News
Laura Seward Forczyk @LauraForczyk

Below are summaries of a number of talks based on their tweets.  The talks included Erika Wagner of Blue Origin, Dylan Taylor of Space Angels, John Quinn of Exos Aerospace, Tim Lachenmeier of Near Space Corporation, Lewis Groswald of the University of Colorado Boulder, and Alain Berinstain of Moon Express.

Erika Wagner
Business Development Manager
Blue Origin

  • Plan to fly payloads on all flight tests of New Shepard in 2018
  • Will then bring in a New Shepard vehicle specifically designed to fly people
  • 3 minutes of microgravity provided by New Shepard is a substantial amount of time for many experiments
  • Suborbital flights can be used for multi-phase flow-regimes, 3D colloidal assemblies, new alloys, purer glasses, cool flames, and improved physio-chemical models for combustion and fluid studies
  • Asking companies how gravity affects their business to get them thinking about how to use New Shepard for research rather than asking if they want to fly experiments
  • Student experiments can be flown in a Nanolab starting at less than $10,000
  • Nanolab is about the size of a 2U CubeSat
  • A standard payload locker costs between $50,000 and $120,000 depending upon payload requirements
  • Standard payload locker is about 52 x 41 x 24 cm
  • Developing new inter-stage mount between capsule and booster with an actuated lid that opens after separation
  • The interstage mount can host science and imaging experiments
  • Future New Shepard crew capacity will be up to 6 astronauts and/or payload stacks
  • Payload access is planned for 30 minutes prior to launch and 20 minutes after end of mission
  • Future plans include external payload mounts, science-quality window inserts, and capsule replacement payloads
  • Factory in Florida for building New Glenn system looks a little like a rocket IKEA
  • Watching a rocket land from space is pretty incredible
  • Blue Origin has grown from 170 to 1,400 employees since she was hired 5.5 years ago
  • NASA prohibits government employees from flying on suborbital vehicles
  • Agency trying to understand the issues and risks involved in changing that policy
  • Blue Origin developed rocket engines for its own use but also providing them to other companies such as ULA

Dylan Taylor
Space Angels

  • 2017 is the year manstream venture capital firms began to seriously invest in space for first time
  • More total capital invested than in any other year than 2016
  • Heavy international investment interest
  • Large “tail effect” for other investment from this increased effort
  • In 2017 ability to reuse rocket was demonstrated and the cost/performance curve for hardware improved
  • Predicts a space startup will make an initial public offering in 2018
  • Incumbent space industry is mature, established, declining and primarily funded by governments
  • Entrepreneurial space industry is innovative with disruptive technology
  • Future space growth areas including bio-pharmaceuticals, space manufacturing, mega-sets of space data, human psychology and industry convergence of Internet of things, global broadband, driver-less vehicles and Earth observations
  • Expects space manufacturing to make a huge leap forward within the next two years
  • Manufacturing includes objects for use in space, objects for use on Earth that space manufacturing can improve, and objects that can only be created in space
  • Large opportunities for development of space resources
  • Space helps us solve problems on Earth by broading our mindsets
  • BioPharm will provide crucial research for aging and genetics
  • Overview effect will change the perspective about Earth of people who go into space

John Quinn
Exos Aerospace

  • On track to receive FAA launch license for suborbital rocket by Feb. 14, 2018
  • First launch could occur as early as Feb. 17, 2018
  • Booking CubeSat payloads for first 5 flights
  • Will providing matching one-to-one funding for educational payloads booked by Jan. 30, 2018
  • Total Total CubeSat launch cost after match will be $3,174
  • Expects to close second funding round of $1.5 million by Jan. 30, 2018
  • In discussions to move company from Caddo Mills, Texas to Fort Worth
  • Fort Worth is closer to Spaceport America where launches will take place

Tim Lachenmeier
Near Space Corporation

  • Near Space provides high-altitude balloons for scientific research
  • Balloons can reach 100,000 feet where they are above 99 percent of the atmosphere
  • Near Space was the first balloon provider in NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program
  • NASA officials were very skeptical about the utility of high-altitude balloons as platforms for useful research

Lewis Groswald
Program Director
Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences
University of Colorado Boulder

  • New space weather program will open in January 2018
  • First project is developing satellite drag model for LEO satellites
  • Anticipates 10 percent growth in Aerospace Department at the university over next decade
  • Moving into a larger building in 2019

Alain Berinstain
Vice President of Global Development
Moon Express

  • Moon Express plans to become 1st U.S. expedition back to lunar surface in 45 years
  • Company will use scaleable MX family of spacecraft to explore the moon and other destinations
  • First mission planned for 2018, second in 2019 to the lunar south pole, third mission in 2020 will be sample return
  • First expedition will be a tech demonstrator partnered with NASA
  • Might do an orbital mission first before a lander because launcher performance is not defined yet
  • Type of mission done first depends on customer requirements
  • Lined up a diverse group of government and commercial payloads
  • Launch is the “rate-limiting step” in company’s lunar plans
  • Company believes it can have spacecraft ready for launch in “significantly less than a year.”
  • Winning the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize that expires on March 31, 2018 is not a factor in company’s business plan

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    “NASA prohibits government employees from flying on suborbital vehicles”

    Anybody else think this is a strange policy?

  • Tom Billings

    I think it is strange from an operational perspective, but not from the perspective of precedents that some people in NASA Centers do not want to see set in place any time soon. At the moment:

    A.) NASA spends a great deal of money and manhours certifying any rocket capsule their people ride to orbit on, providing jobs, and controlling *when* these capsules actually become operational. This is politically useful when going to Congress for money for all the other NASA programs.

    B.) Allowing NASA astronauts, or anyone else in government, to ride on the much larger number of possible sub-orbital launch vehicles, would require a *much* larger certification program, or would mean more than one exemplum of NASA personnel riding into Space (beyond the Von Karman limit of 100 kilometers), and surviving quite well. That would call into question the real reason for the existence of the present certification programs.

    C.) Since those certification programs are vital to Congressional Chairs extending the time over which they have influence on human spaceflight, and on their local communities that profit from government spaceflight, NASA would be making enemies it cannot afford, by decreasing the clout of these members of Congress in the near future.

    IMHO, we are still in the pre-industrial era of spaceflight. This stems from the correct definition of industrial revolution given by Arnold Toynbee, in 1884. “When a society moves from allocating resources by custom and tradition (read here, politics) to allocating resources by markets, it can be said to have undergone an industrial revolution”. Total government control over spaceflight during its first 30 years marked its exclusion from the social processes of the industrial revolution’s and their usual acceleration of productivity.

    The fight over the next 25 years to keep spaceflight a government monopoly, ended after the Columbia disaster, for 5 years, in the beginning of the COTS program. Then, in 2009, that fight was picked up again by the congressional NASA funding committees. It continues, with slowly weakening strength levered against the growth of market-oriented spaceflight, and against any exemplums that would weaken the ways in which their leverage can be applied.

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    Wow, thank you for this comprehensive response. Great points all. Cheers.

  • Michael Halpern

    Nice to see BO having a pretty comprehensive business plan for New Sheppard, I respect it far more marketed for research potential than for space tourism, yes there are indeed rich people who will want to ride, but thats a fairly finite market, there will always be companies whom are looking for R&D platforms,

  • Michael Halpern

    There is also the factor of likely when they decided this policy, and what suborbital that would be, if I were to guess they decided this either during the development of VG’s Spaceship 1 or shortly thereafter, Branson is heavily connected to the middle east, and their oil, which was a politically strenuous issue.

  • Allen Taylor

    An excellent analysis of the politics, Tom. However, this ban ignores the reality that many, many years ago Neil Armstrong and a number of other X-15 pilots made suborbital flights at a time when they were government employees. NASA had no control of that program, which ran in parallel to NASA’s Mercury program.

  • Tom Billings

    Indeed, it strives mightily to not credit *any* US possibility of human spaceflight outside NASA. Thus, like the whispering campaigns of 1979-2004, it tries to delay that eventuality, even though it cannot be nearly as effective. Escape velocity is coming, in more than one way, for spaceflight for the rest of us! Merry Christmas, Allan! 🙂

  • Robert Sutton

    i know Alan Shepard and Virgill Grissom don’t