"New Space: New Science -- Science applications of a new generation of
commercial spacecraft" Duncan Law-Green, XROA University of Leicester
"NewSpace", or the entrepreneurial low-cost, fast-track development of space systems for commercial applications, has been increasingly in the news because of the prospect of suborbital "space tourism". Commercially-operated suborbital spaceflights will offer paying passengers a flight on a ballistic arc to 100km+, experiencing the view from space altitudes and several minutes of microgravity.
These developments are now imminent. The public rollout of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo manned suborbital spaceplane is merely weeks away. Other groups have already successfully flight-demonstrated fully-reusable rocket prototypes, and it is likely that multiple companies will be making test flights to space altitudes (100km+) in the 2010-2011 timeframe. I will outline the current status of these projects, and why they differ in important respects from existing expendable research rockets.
New organisations have recently been formed to study the scientific potential of these new spacecraft, including SARG (Suborbital Applications Research Group), and the NASA Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research Program at NASA Ames. I will discuss the current status of their work, and some of the most promising applications of these systems in the fields of fundamental physics, earth and space science, and instrumentation development. Opportunities exist for UK researchers through USRA (the Universities Space Research Association) and I will discuss my own work in this area.
It appears increasingly likely that low-cost NewSpace developments will transform not just suborbital science, but NASA's entire spaceflight research and exploration programmes. UK researchers should be prepared to take maximum advantage of these changes.
Re these two items from the UK, they both show a cluelessness that seems all to endemic among some there. I've been seeing that for years from here, and it was clear when I visited last June.
-- The technology is a "wow!" but the way NOT to put the UK in the vanguard of new space activities is Bond's/Reaction Engine's vehicle, which would require on the order of $14 billion and a decade before the investors start seeing a return.
-- There is no mystery about what Virgin wants to be able to fly from Lossemouth. They want an explicit framework and a clear regulatory authority to turn to. I.e., the equivalent of the CSLAA provisions in the US and the FAA/AST to administer them. In "theory" it may be possible to fly under present conditions, in practice it is likely incredibly awkward and uncertain to try to get all the "i"'s dotted and "t"'s crossed.
Thing is, I think he has a point.
I'm a cheerleader for our homegrown SSTO, I think it's a technically elegant and aesthetically beautiful vehicle and I'd dearly love to see it fly. That said, I think we should also actively be pursuing other routes to spaceflight as well, at the same time, notably the "build a little, fly a little" incremental route being followed by XCOR, Armadillo, Masten and others with steadily growing success.
It's not just an "eggs in one basket" concern. I want to see a growing UK base of expertise in rapid "cut-and-try" engineering in reliable, reusable liquid biprop engines, along with operational experience in actual flying vehicles. Nothing inspires confidence (and attracts public interest, potential investors and government support) better than an actual flying prototype. I want these UK companies to have a revenue-generating stream of products and services as early as possible. As a scientist interested in microgravity applications, I want to be able to run experiments on UK-built and operated suborbital spacecraft. Even after the development of SSTOs, this base of experience will still be useful, providing a source of reliable, economic propulsion systems for OTVs and landers. REL's Fluyt OTV proposes to use the French-built Vinci upper-stage engine. I'd much rather it used a British engine ;-)
This is not a new concept for us. David Ashford of Bristol Spaceplanes has been promoting the incremental route for decades. We certainly have the expertise, we have rocketry startups with better ground-test facilities than the likes of Masten... what we don't seem to have are friendly dot.com millionaires who like to fund playing with rockets ;-) If you happen to be on good terms with any of these guys, by all means let me know, and I'll point them in the right direction!
As for Charles' second point, I also agree there. Given a disagreement between Whitehorn (who has aviation lawyers on tap working for Virgin Group), and an MP who spent an afternoon reading up on the subject, I know which I'd go with :p Charles is quite right, we need an equivalent to the CSLAA, and a specific subdivision of the CAA responsible for administering UK commercial spaceflight (along with a mandate to *promote* the industry, same as with FAA/AST). I'll be writing more about this when I get the chance.
Charles: To paraphrase William Gibson, Clue is already here, it's just not evenly distributed ;-)
The recent successes by Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, and Paul's Robotics, Terra Engineering, and Team Braundo in the Regolith Excavation Challenge are a compelling demonstration of the power of prizes to motivate and mobilise innovative entrepreneurial talent. This has been the most successful season to date for the Centennial Challenges (funded on a shoestring under the NASA Innovative Partnerships Programme), and it's not over yet. The last week of October will see further LLC prize attempts by Masten, Unreasonable and BonNova, making this an honest-to-goodness rocket race. My very best wishes to all the teams concerned. It grieves me that I will be travelling at the time, so it's unlikely that I'll be able to see these latest flights "live".
It is my earnest hope that a UK space agency, should it come about, will see the value in technology prizes for spurring innovation. It fills me with a cold fury that the UK government can find £6 million ($10 million) to produce a truly loathsome piece of televised propaganda (one so offensive as to have triggered an official investigation by the advertising watchdog), when the same amount of money would have funded an entire UK Centennial Challenges programme. We are more interested in frightening children with drowning cartoon dogs, than developing our space engineering base. If that's not a damning indictment of the current state of this country, I don't know what is.
On the subject of prizes, I was intrigued by John Hare's proposal for small prizes (say $1000) for tractable practical problems in rocketry, and think it's something we could look at implementing here, with the help of moderately wealthy private benefactors. The sums required would be far less than the levels of private investment already made in companies like Starchaser and REL, and would be aimed in the first instance at active and enthusiastic amateur groups wishing to develop their skills base. With luck, one or more of those amateur groups may be spurred to form a professional company, along the Armadillo model.
I'll be giving a seminar (working title: NewSpace, New Science: Research opportunities on a new generation of commercial spacecraft) at the Space Research Centre in late November. More details nearer the time. I'll upload the slides here after the seminar.
You want a forward look? Here's a forward look! ;-)
Date: 23-Apr-2030 17:48:06 -0000 (UTC)
From: "Dr. Pavel Vukovic" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Naomi Fullerton" <email@example.com>
X-Message-Summary: Auto-transcrip from video attach (76.2MB MP6, generated by vox2txt-3.13 on ubuntu-29.10)
X-Message-Security: GPG signature OK
Subject: Welcome to Midway!
My Dearest Nim
Thank you so much for your vid and kind message. Your aunt and I are so proud of you, and so pleased at your choice of career.
The new Prague campus looks beautiful, I must say. I only saw it when it was under construction, but the new Engineering building is particularly fine, isn't it? That one-tonne nodule of asteriron in the foyer looks very nice now it's all polished up. I will be certain to visit once this tour is over. I think old Zhdanov will want me to give a seminar or two, at least!
Yes, I saw the fluff on the feeds about there being a thousand people in space. I've seen the figures, and they counted daily suborbital traffic as well, which in my opinion they shouldn't have done. Still, we're well on the way, and by the end of the year I reckon there should be easily over a thousand people on-orbit. The recent rollout of the Skylon-F3s and Krunichev Volga's has opened the floodgates, and now that the first phases at Clarke and Goddard are almost finished, most of them seem to be headed in my direction!
You're quite right, my dear, and very perceptive, I might add. Uncle Pavel is feeling just as much out of his depth here as you did on your first day at university! You see, pretty much everything has changed since my last tour Out.
You'll have heard all of this from your lecturers and the feeds, no doubt, but humour an old man. You see, it's all down to a misunderstanding. We thought we had a deal, you see. We thought the commercials would do the routine taxi, fetch-and-carry stuff like good little employees, and leave the grand and noble mission of pushing back the frontiers and exploring the solar system to us, the space agencies. We were wrong. Boy, were we wrong. We were stuck out here in our little deep-space ivory tower, and I can tell you, I swear those guys made an audible WHOOSH as they shot past us.
Last trip, I was happy to be a planetary scientist: take my magnetospherics readings and calibrate the micrometeoroid flux detectors. Now, I'm getting used to being town mayor, harbourmaster, agony uncle and cop. As your grandma Effie is fond of saying in her funky twencen way, "Shit just went non-linear, yo".
Last rotation, I was takked to a wall in a single hab eating my dinner from a tube. Now there's a mess hall that seats thirty and we're eating in shifts. The biggest group here are the leapabouts from Bigelow-Boeing, AngloSekur and Mitsu Heavy, who are doing the hard manual work of assembling and maintaining the habs and support systems. They're a roughtough bunch, but good people if you make the effort to get to know them.
The new Samsung habweaver bots are certainly making their jobs easier, but there's still a hellish amount of work to do, like the SPs and the port and depot expansion. Cloverleaf One is finished and beaming to Aristarchus and Medii (I guess you can see it with a good pair of binocs). Once Two is finished, the work at Tycho can start properly.
We've got a deputation due in next week from Virgin Selene -- they're already spooling the fullerribbon for Hoop One in their Cambridge plant. Hey, by next rotation I could be sleeping in a proper bed and working in a proper office! Just have to dodge the crowds of hotel guests, that's all...
Um, who else? Well, there's the brains-trust guys from SARPA in their smart blue uniforms, in transit out to L-2 to build *something*, no-one seems to know exactly what, and they're not telling. Flying saucers? Mars in a week? Who knows?
We've got researchers from the Stern Institute and National Geographic, who want to go down to Medii and take 3Ds of the lava tubes in their native state before they get capped off and pressurised. There's a team from Komatsu and Norsk Astro doing a teleop survey of the bedrock for the Tycho massdriver. All of them are yelling at me because the infrastructure simply can't keep up. The Armadillos are running at full stretch, and the SuperEagles aren't even prepped yet. I'm often in vidconfs with Seoul, Denver and London multiple times a day, alternately pleading and bullying.
The one group I'm pleased *not* to have to deal with is that sad, withered appendage to the National Parks Service. Fortunately they seem to be occupied in LEO earning a few nickels showing tourists round the ISS Historical Exhibit. If one of them showed up here and bleated about a dozer getting too close to one of the Sacred Sites, I'd fully expect him to be summarily bundled out the nearest lock, without the benefit of a suit.
What's happening here isn't formal, it isn't organised by central committees or plotted on gantts. It's noisy, chaotic, disruptive and gloriously, quintessentially human. It doesn't matter what UNSA and Treaty Group pontificate about in their high councils, this stuff is happening *anyway*. Life will out.
Hand on heart, Nim, I love it, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now. This is an honest-to-Heinlein frontier boom town.
"Welcome to Midway, Crossroads of the Solar System!"
Much love to you and your dear mother.
Dr. Pavel Vukovic
Director, ESA Segment/Chief Commercial Liaison
Lagrange-One Station/Facilities Cluster
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