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Space Access Society Update

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
December 20, 2014
Filed under , , , , ,

Space Access Update #138
Copyright 2014 by Space Access Society

In this Issue:

Year-End Wrapup:

Commercial Crew FY’15 Funding
Defense Engine Development
Falcon 9 Recovery Attempt

Space Access ’15 Conference Set For April 30 – May 2, 2015

Year-End Wrapup

2014 is winding down and Congress is done for the year. We’re going to take a quick look here at where some of our major issues have gotten to, before we join much of the rest of the country in getting very little business done during these last two weeks of the year. Warm and happy (and safe, for those of us traveling) holidays to us all! And our special best wishes to all those who, holidays regardless, will keep right on working hard to make the future fly.

Commercial Crew FY’15 Funding

NASA got $805 million for Commercial Crew this year in the final “Cromnibus” catchall Federal funding bill. That’s a bit short of the $848 million NASA requested, but a significant increase over last year’s $696 million. We still worry whether funding shortfalls over the next few years will cause further delays from the current 2017 first-flight goal – see this Spaceflight Now piece for background on how past funding shortfalls have already caused that date to slip from the original 2015 – but it’s impossible to do more than speculate until more details on the two CCtCap contracts emerge. That’s supposed to begin happening after Sierra Nevada’s protest is decided early next month. We’ll see.

The unalloyed good news is that there is no poison-pill language for Commercial Crew in this bill. This was not for lack of opportunity – all sorts of special-interest provisions popped up elsewhere in the bill (see our next item.) We might cautiously hope this is a sign of something resembling an informal truce in this battle of old ways versus new at NASA, but we won’t count on it just yet.

For more on this year’s NASA budget in general, see this Space News piece. Of particular note, a significant (and we think pointless) plus-up of both SLS and Orion, accompanied by a shameful cutback in the Space Technology account that actually pays for things that might be useful in affordable future exploration.

Defense Engine Development

Speaking of peculiar special-interest provisions in the Cromnibus, the Air Force is directed to spend $220 million this year on starting development of an RD-180 engine replacement. This despite our pointing out in SAU#137 “Booster & Engine Developments” that between SpaceX and the new ULA-Blue Origin partnership, US Defense dual-redundant launch-assurance requirements now look like being taken care of by purely commercial US investments.

We’re not at all surprised that a faction within Congress ignored us in this, but we are mildly surprised they also ignored the Defense Department saying essentially the same thing: That this spending isn’t needed because they “..can meet the assured access to space requirement with existing privately funded vehicle families.” See this Space News piece for more on what looks to us very much like an attempted Aerojet earmark.

Falcon 9 Recovery Attempt

And wrapping all this up on a hopeful note, SpaceX will be attempting an historic first on their next Station cargo launch, currently scheduled for January 6th. They will build on previous successes in slowing down F9’s first stage from a significant fraction of orbital velocity to a low-altitude hover, this time attempting to land their F9R first stage intact on a position-stabilized barge floating downrange of the launch site.

We have been talking for decades about the possibility of recovering orbital-launcher rocket stages intact enough to quickly and cheaply reuse them, thus radically changing the launch cost equation. Now SpaceX will be making their first attempt at this in just a few weeks. It is an attempt, mind – an engineering test, intended to quickly discover what the simulations and analysis may have missed.

There’s no guarantee it’ll work the first time, but if it doesn’t, the lessons learned will be quickly applied to the next test, and the next. Once SpaceX does recover a stage intact, there’s then no guarantee it will be in good enough shape to fly again right away. But if not, it will provide data needed to redesign the next try to return in better shape. We would not bet against SpaceX attempting the first actual reflight of their Falcon 9 first stage within the next year or two.


Space Access ’15 Conference Set For April 30 – May 2, 2015

We’d like to thank everyone who responded to our requests for feedback on conference dates. The overwhelming consensus has been that Thursday April 30th through Saturday May 2nd 2015 for our next Space Access Conference (in, as usual, Phoenix Arizona) is what works best for almost all of us, so we’re now setting those as the official dates of Space Access ’15.

For those of you who make your travel arrangements early, we’ll be starting programming at 2 pm Thursday, running (with breaks) till ~10 pm, Friday 9 am till ~10 pm, then Saturday 9 am till ~6 pm with hanging out, talking and partying to follow till late. Our overall schedule will include roughly twenty-one hours on the latest and most interesting developments in this fast-moving field.

This date change did somewhat disrupt our hotel negotiations, but after a bit of scrambling we again have multiple good venues to choose from. The earliest we expect to have a hotel contract now will be sometime in January, as it’s been our experience over the years that nothing much ever gets accomplished businesswise over Christmas and New Year’s weeks.

As for conference funding, we’re now up to fifty-three hundred of the ten thousand we need to make this conference fly. Thanks! And keep those checks coming. If you believe that Space Access conferences are useful to this community, and that keeping conference prices as low as possible for all of us who are still students, hungry amateurs, or tight-budget startup pros is still the way to go, help, please. Send a donation of whatever size – ten, a hundred, a thousand, it all helps – via check still for now (credit cards online are nearing the top of the to-do list, but aren’t quite there yet) to: Space Access Society, PO Box 16034, Phoenix AZ 85011.

Note that this is NOT tax-deductible, as we are not a 501c-anything. It is however entirely confidential, as we have never and will never share or disclose in any way our supporters’ names. (Unless you want to be listed as a conference sponsor – we’ll be glad to give credit where it’s desired. And of course, our ongoing gratitude goes out to all who’ve supported us over the years and who continue to help.)


Space Access Society’s sole purpose is to promote radical reductions in the cost of reaching space.  You may redistribute this Update in any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety. You may reproduce selected portions of this Update if you credit this Space Access Update as the source and include a pointer to our website.

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“Reach low orbit and you’re halfway to anywhere in the Solar System”

– Robert A. Heinlein