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NewSpace 2010: Suborbital Spaceflight Panel

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
July 23, 2010

XCOR's Lynx suborbital vehicle

Suborbital Spaceflight – Panel Discussion

  • Alan Stern – Associate Vice-President of R&D, Southwest Research Institute
  • A.C. Charamia – President, SpaceWorks Commercial
  • Douglas Maclise – NASA CRuSR Program
  • David Masten – Founder and CEO, Masten Space Systems
  • Lee Valentine – Space Studies Institute

Alan Stern

  • Suborbital used to be seen as a stepping stone to the big leagues
  • Now it is seen as the big leagues – large business
  • Could be flying thousands of people into space each year within a few years
  • Flights take place several times per day, every day, from every continent on Earth
  • Suborbital environment is close, a few minutes to get there
  • Really change the public view of space flight as many people fly
  • Super Bowl commercials and HD videos being filmed on spaceflights,
  • Outstanding scientific results in microgravity
  • 5 companies developing systems on the private dime

How the Program Got Started

  • NASA Administrator Mike Griffin was looking for commercialization ideas
  • Stern suggested buying 100 tickets on suborbital vehicles
  • Griffin opened his back door, called in Shana Dale, and she loved it
  • Later met with Richard Branson – Told him that NASA would buy 100 tickets
  • Branson fell down on his knees in front of him, began shining his shoes, and asked what he could do.
  • Stern said he wanted to meet Bono
  • Branson said that if NASA buys 100 tickets, you will be having dinner with Bono

(Editor’s Note: NASA intends to purchase flights from a variety of providers, not just Branson’s Virgin Galactic. The agency hasn’t signed any contracts or made any specific commitments to any companies yet.)

A.C. Charamia – President, SpaceWorks Commercial

  • Fast Forward Group – study group on point-to-point transportation
  • Broad group using a NACA type process to look at how point-to-point will work
  • Market assessment
  • Regulatory issues
  • After the pioneers, is there a sustainable market for it?
  • How much does the price decrease?
  • Transition to point-to-point and cargo
  • Uncertainties concerning NASA’s CRuSR program, annual availability
  • What are the generational aspects of adventure tourists – could be a bit of a trough after that…and is there enough additional business to make up for an eventual dip.


  • I don’t think there will be a dip in flight reservations….safety and lower price points will allow the market to grow…

Douglas Maclise

  • Request for quotation – due at 1 p.m. today
  • Selections and announcements within the next couple of weeks
  • Begin to fly within the next couple of months
  • Initial budget of $1.5 million — Announcement in Boulder of $15 million for each of next five years
  • Congressional bills initially cut back on program, but it has since been fully funded: “It still looks very good.”
  • Some initial flights to characterize the flights and the environment
  • What loads for the cargo and experiments, what type of microgravity environment will be experienced
  • ADSB – Automated Dependent Surveillance Broadcast – device that uses GPS signals to locate itself and broadcast it to the FAA and its broadcast to other vehicles in the area
  • ADSB is critical if we’re going to have vehicles coming down from 300,000 feet with rocket engines firing
  • CRuSR will join the Office of the Chief Technologist – a very good thing
  • Were going to award a lot of grants and projects to these in small amounts so they can experiment and undertake development…begin with parabolic ZERO-G flights and then go on suborbital flights…
  • Program will move from Ames to Dryden
  • Dryden has much experience in experimental vehicles, it will handle flight issues
  • Ames will continue to handle payload issues
  • Dryden can use facilities at Edwards AFB
  • Dryden is close to Mojave, where suborbital vehicles are being built
  • Build a little, test a little, build again…
  • Restrictions will be lessened and revised as things develop and mature….


  • A lot of foes of this program with vested interests within NASA….some people want astronauts to be the primary people even in suborbital space….
  • Opening up from suborbital from just payloads to people….game changer….

David Masten
Masten Space Systems

  • We are hoping to be one of the first if not the first launcher in the program….
  • Suborbital work is very exciting…
  • Instead of once every six months scheduled years in advance, you can schedule it six weeks in advance or six days in advance and give them as many flights as they need….
  • Can fly in the morning, evening, afternoon to measure upper atmosphere…

Lee Valentine
Space Studies Institute and XCOR

  • Mature space transportation systems
  • Safe, reliable efficient and highly reusable rocket systems
  • XCOR Lynx will launch small satellites – within two years
  • Need low-cost operations to make space transportation mature
  • Low cost propellants
  • Hypergolics are unacceptable
  • Long-life engines are essential
  • Composite cryogenic tanks
  • XCOR
    • Assembling a vehicle
    • Begin test flight program – 6 – 12 months
    • Everyone in the company will fly first
    • Investors will then fly
    • Then ticket holders
  • In response to question about incentives to get the industry moving faster, Valentine said there is a race going on in the Mojave and the XCOR intends to win it

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