Old Space / New Space: Its Just Name Calling

Which way to space?, Washington Post

"Old Space (and this is still the dreamers talking) is slow, bureaucratic, government-directed, completely top-down. Old Space is NASA, cautious and halting, supervising every project down to the last thousand-dollar widget. Old Space is Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman. Old Space coasts on the glory of the Apollo era and isn't entirely sure what to do next.

New Space is the opposite of all that. It's wild. It's commercial, bootstrapping, imaginative, right up to the point of being (and this is no longer the dreamers talking) delusional."

Keith's note: Funny thing: this article's top illustration shows "Old Space Delta IV Heavy" and "New Space Dream Chaser". Guess what rocket the "New Space" Dream Chaser is shown on? Looks like an Atlas V to me. According to the article's simplistic definition, that's an "Old Space" rocket. Joel Achenbach has fallen for the same gimmick that is annoyingly common in the space business today wherein a company is one or the other but not both. And "Old" = bad and "New" = good (if you talk to a New Spacer, that is).

This "New Space" Vs "Old Space" designation is just a semantic ploy used by people who want NASA money for their company or pet idea that is currently being given to another company/project. You have to convince NASA that you are worthy of funding so you make the status quo look like dinosaurs. Market analysis, engineering excellence, and sound investment never seem to be important to the New Spacers. Being "new" and not "old" is, so it would seem. People who try and pigeon hole companies as being either "Old Space" or "New Space" into one category or another are missing what is really going on.

Northrop Grumman bought Scaled Composites - the same company that built SpaceShipOne - the poster child of "New Space". Does that now make Northrop Grumman "New Space" or does it make Scaled Composites "Old Space"? SNC is using a design based on NASA research that is decades old. Is that "Old Space" or New Space"? OSC's Antares uses Russian NK-33 engines that were built 40 years ago to launch cargo to the ISS. Is that "Old Space" or New Space"? SpaceX uses ladders bought in hardware stores to gain access to Dragon and rotates its Falcon 9 stages in a rig made out of standard truck tires. Their Florida launch site's liquid Nitrogen tank is 50 year old government surplus from LC 37. The ladders and tires are not unlike their counterparts half a century ago. Not very high tech "New Space" to me. Both NASA MSFC and SpaceX are "printing" rocket engines. Is NASA "New Space"?

The distinction between "Old Space" and New Space" is blurred, at best. Rather, using the terms is lazy and amounts to ill-informed name calling.

Of course, new crop of aerospace companies are changing the way we think about space access and utilization. I do not suggest that the expensive way we currently do things in space is sustainable. Things need to change. And they are. Established companies are learning from start-ups and start-ups stand on the shoulders of NASA and the aerospace companies that came before them. Progress is always an ever-changing and dynamic amalgam of old and new. The sooner everyone involved in space exploration and utilization realizes that and stops the name calling the sooner we'll all start making some progress beyond the stagnation we find ourselves in today.

  • submit to reddit


Kepler Communications - Aether
Baen Books - The Spacetime War by Les Johnson

Join our mailing list

Commercialization: Monthly Archives

Monthly Archives

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on November 24, 2013 10:10 PM.

NASA is Building "Crew Exploration Vehicle" Again was the previous entry in this blog.

Progress 53 Leaves Earth for ISS is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.