More Q&A With Opifex Global About Their Astronaut Training Thing

Keith's update: I got another response from Barton Bollfrass at Opifex Global and their commercial astronaut training company in response to questions I submitted after they contacted me about doing a possible story. (Posted below)

I really do not want to dump on the enthusiasm that these folks have for what they want to do. Everyone should have a chance to become an astronaut. There many paths to get there. I have had microgravity, centrifuge, construction in remote hazardous locations, and expeditionary training. These folks claim to often a different approach. I just think they need to do a little more home work on their curriculum an campus - based on what I can see in public view. Perhaps we will hear more from them in the future.

"Keith, Apologies for the delayed response. We are a small team at present and have been working to add content to our website. We listened to your suggestion and posted a new website today. Here are the responses to your second set of questions, and thanks for your continued interest in what we're doing. Below you will find the answers to the follow-up questions. "

Additional Questions and answers below

1. Who is the "well known university"?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: Unfortunately, I'm not at liberty to discuss the details yet as we are still in the planning stage. Hopefully we will be able to announce this soon, after which I would be more than happy to tell you first.

2. Who at "the National Space Council and the White House"

OPIFEX GLOBAL: I'm glad you were able to reach them and that their response was that they had indeed met with us. My referencing those two entities was solely to assure you that we were not planning to launch into space without first talking to the government. Like any business would, we had to meet standard requirements, but we were happy to meet the challenge.

3. So you have no agreements with any company that is going to launch people into space or with NASA.

OPIFEX GLOBAL: Currently, that is correct. We reached out to all the transport providers, but none were capable of letting us out of their vessels to work in space or on the Moon. Several companies seem to be working on this capability and we hope they succeed.

4. Do you cover all the costs of materials, labor, insurance, transportation for students?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: We are currently working on a plan that covers most of the costs for our students.

5. What company or agency owns/operates the "altitude chamber, hypobaric chamber, and centrifuge"?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: KBR (Brooks Base) in San Antonio. The history there is amazing.

6. It is hard to see how you train astronauts without any sort of spacecraft simulator. Which space transportation companies have your staff and students visited onsite for inspections?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: Every company that has attempted a commercial astronaut training program started with a space simulator as their primary focus. Instead, we decided to start with a neutral-buoyancy tank as our main focus. This decision was based on my discussions with NASA trainers in 2014. They informed me that an astronaut needs 100+ hours in a neutral-buoyancy tank to be certified. We haven't visited any transportation companies yet, because none of the vessels can open their door in space yet.

7. What approvals have you received and from whom have you received them? What "U.S. Government agencies have you received "approval" from? is this "approval" formal certification to train astronauts? What is the name of the "nearby university"?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: It is our understanding that no approvals are needed at this time. Should approvals be required at some point in the future for non-governmental candidates, we will address those requirements accordingly.

8. Why can't/won't you name your faculty members? Who are the astronauts? What astronaut training curriculum in particular of NASA's did you adapt? Did NASA give you the curriculum if so how did you obtain NASA's astronaut training curriculum materials - did you ask for them, file a FOIA, buy these things from NASA?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: Our faculty consists of contract instructors and safety divers that get activated during training. In 2014, I received permission to speak with NASA about their training program. After a NSA clearance check I was granted permission to speak with some of their astronauts and trainers. We agreed with the NSA to not disclose names. I hope that's understandable.

9. What is the name of the university you are working with and where are they located? Are they accredited and do they confer accreditation upon your program and its graduates?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: The university we are negotiating with is located in Texas and they are indeed accredited.

10. Who are the 12 members of your team? What are their respective backgrounds in astronaut training?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: The initial team has all moved on after helping us create the program. We utilized multiple curriculum writers, industry professionals, and water training experts to develop the program.

Thanks for the chance to speak with you again, Keith. Check out our new website, I hope it's an improvement over the last attempt and thanks again for the advice.

-Barton Bollfrass, Opifex Global

My response to the latest series of Q&A:

"FWIW I have more than a passing personal knowledge of astronaut and expeditionary training and space ops - with 35 years in one space-related job or another at NASA and in the private sector. I am not certain how you can run an astronaut certification program when you refuse to identify the educational institution(s) and faculty involved in your certification and training or how anyone requiring certification of a prospective astronaut would have any idea what your certification means. As for your website - it has more pictures and words but still lacks the basics that a prospective student/client would need to determine that you actually have the ability to do what you claim to be able to do. Just sayin'. Also - why did you need a NSA security check to talk to NASA about astronaut training? I'd be astonished to learn that the names of astronaut instructors is in any way classified since this stuff is all public knowledge. Some of them are long time friends of mine. "

Initial posting

Keith's 3 September note: I have gotten several emails out of the blue from a Michael Maly at a PR firm called Above the Radar PR regarding a company called Opifex Global. I am sure other space meda have gotten emails too. Today's email says: "I'm reaching out in regards to any interest that you or your publication may have for coverage on the only privatized astronaut training facility in the world currently. Opifex Global successfully created a space program that greatly resembles the U.S. government's own by starting with the same assets and personnel. Their curriculum encompasses the same neutral buoyancy tanks, tools, simulators, spacesuits, and practical skills necessary for managing off-world operations."

If you visit their website you will see that it is rather ... sparse. They have 3 training options listed with links that all send you to the same inquiry form that states that "Space-Jacks train with the same curriculum, simulators, equipment, tools, and neutral-buoyancy tanks that the government astronauts use, but for a small fraction of the cost." One would think that "the only privatized astronaut training facility in the world" would offer a little more in the way of detail. So I sent them 10 questions and some follow-ups (below). I'll revise if they respond further.

In response to my first and last questions they replied "We are in direct contact with the National Space Council and the White House if that is more helpful." and "Opifex Global is a private company and will conduct business with whichever vendor pays for our services. The White House, the United States Government, and the National Space Council all recognize us. The FAA was polite enough to let us know we will never need their permission. Anyone else out there selling the idea that we need additional permission (like NASA's) is simply misinformed... or works for NASA. :)" This boasting certainly comes across as implying the hint of support at the highest levels of government - otherwise why mention the whole direct contact with the White House/National Space Council thing?

So ... I checked with the National Space Council. A National Space Council spokesman replied "National Space Council staff met with company representatives earlier this year to receive information on their plans. We are always interested in new entrepreneurial space activities. No official government endorsement should be assumed or implied."

Q&A follows.

OPIFEX GLOBAL: [Barton Bollfrass]: Keith, Pleasure to make your acquaintance, I am the managing partner for Opifex Global. I'll do my best to answer your questions below, but you are welcome to contact me back if any of my answers need further explanation.

NASAWATCH: Well, since you contacted me, can you provide written answers to these questions? I cannot find any of this information on your rather sparse website. These are the sort of things one would expect to see on a website advertising the services offered at https://www.opifexglobal.com/

OPIFEX GLOBAL: We aren't raising any money, and already have a pipeline for candidates through a well-known university. I tend to find that websites that are heavy on the graphics and info are trying to raise capital. We are not.

NASAWATCH: Who is the "well known university"?


NASAWATCH: 1. Does Opifex Global have any training agreements with NASA? With any other space agency? If so please list the agencies with which Opifex Global works and the nature of these agreements (MOU, SAA, IPA, contract, etc.).

OPIFEX GLOBAL: Opifex Global provides a competitive product to NASA's science-based astronauts, so we don't require any training agreements with them nor need their assistance. Opifex has access to all the same training curriculum and simulators that NASA utilizes. We are in direct contact with the National Space Council and the White House if that is more helpful.

NASAWATCH: Who at "the National Space Council and the WHite House"?


NASAWATCH: 2. Does Opifex Global have training agreements with space transportation companies such as SpaceX (mentioned above), Virgin, Galactic, or Blue Origin? If so please list the companies with which Opifex Global works and the nature of these agreements (MOU, SAA, IPA, contract, etc.).

OPIFEX GLOBAL: We don't work with tourism companies or work in low Earth orbit. Our clients retain separate agreements with transportation companies just like construction projects on Earth. We ride up and down, and aren't required to pilot any vessels. SpaceX cannot open their doors in space or on the Moon, only into the ISS. We don't work on the ISS.

NASAWATCH: So you have no agreements with any company that is going to launch people into space or with NASA.


NASAWATCH: 3. How much does Opifex Global training cost?

OPIFEX GLOBAL:There is no charge for our training, it's free. We don't provide training to the general public, instead we provide already trained commercial astronauts we call Space-Jacks like contract laborers on Earth. We train 4 candidates per year with an agreement to produce (8) by 2024.

NASAWATCH: Do you cover all of the costs of materials, labor, insurance, transportation for students?


NASAWATCH: 4. Does Opifex Global have cooperative agreements with companies that provide centrifuge training such as NASTAR or weightless training such as Zero Gravity Corp?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: Yes. We utilize an altitude chamber, hypobaric cold chamber, and centrifuge located in San Antonio, Texas about 1hr South of us.

NASAWATCH: What company or agency owns/operates the "altitude chamber, hypobaric chamber, and centrifuge"?


NASAWATCH: 5. Does Opifex Global have a spacecraft simulator wherein crew activities and procedures can be taught - without wearing SCUBA gear?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: We don't require spacecraft simulation, or train pilots. We send Space-Jack candidates to inspect and learn from transport providers on-site, when activated. They are not required to be pilots, participate in ISS crew activities, or travel to the ISS.

NASAWATCH: Its is hard to see how you train astronauts without any sort of spacecraft simulator. Which space transportation companies have your staff and students visited onsite for inspections?


NASAWATCH: 6. How many commercial astronauts has Opifex Global trained? Are there graduates who can be interviewed?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: We are just now open this Summer after spending a year getting approvals and providing tours to officials from the US government. Our first candidates start training this coming January. One male and one female candidate each semester from a nearby University's aerospace engineering program.

NASAWATCH: What approvals have your received a and from whom have you receive them? What "U.S. Government agencies have you received "approval" from? is this "approval" formal certification to train astronauts? What is the name of the "nearby university"?


NASAWATCH: 7. Who is on the Opifex Global faculty? What are their names, affiliations, and qualifications to train astronauts? What are their qualifications to reach space mining skills? What are their qualifications to reach space construction skills?

OPIFEX GLOBAL: Our management team and instructors are made up of former US Navy Divers and former US Army Divers. Our advisory Board has 4 former NASA and USAF astronauts. Our curriculum comes from the same source as NASA's. Our space mining curriculum comes from the Colorado School of Mines. Our facility, curriculum, procedures, and practices were all vetted by the government's space program. Our space construction skills come from trial and error, because they don't exist yet and we're creating them.

NASAWATCH: Why can't/won't you name your faculty members? Who are the astronauts? What astronaut training curriculum in particular of NASA's did you adapt? Did NASA give you the curriculum if so how did you obtain NASA's astronaut training curriculum materials - did you ask for them, file a FOIA, buy these things from NASA?


NASAWATCH: 8. Does Opifex Global provide academic credit, continuing education credits for its training? If so what certifying organizations have given accreditation to Opifex Global course work?

OPIFEX GLOBAL:The university we are working with just suggested that we additionally offer that credit for our Space-Jacks. It is a new idea for us mind you, but I think it's a good one and plan to follow up on that.

NASAWATCH: What is the name of the university you are working with and where are they located? Are they accredited and do they confer accreditation upon your program and its graduates?

NASAWATCH: 9. How many commercial astronauts has Opifex Global trained?

OPIFEX GLOBAL:It took a team of 12 to create the program, but our first male and female start in January. We are simply waiting on the start of the next semester. We felt that following the standard semester schedule that students are used to made the most sense.

NASAWATCH: Who are them 12 members of your team? What are their respective backgrounds in astronaut training?


NASAWATCH: 10. Is Opifex Global Certification recognized by space transportation companies or space agencies - if so, please list those companies and/or agencies that recognize it.

OPIFEX GLOBAL: Opifex Global is a private company and will conduct business with whichever vendor pays for our services. The White House, the United States Government, and the National Space Council all recognize us. The FAA was polite enough to let us know we will never need their permission. Anyone else out there selling the idea that we need additional permission (like NASA's) is simply misinformed... or works for NASA. :)

NASAWATCH: OK. I will be contacting the National Space Council to ask them about their "recognition" of you and if they have given you permission to mention this in responses in response to news media inquiries. I'll be posting the above - plus any responses you provide. Reminder: your PR firm contacted us.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on September 15, 2019 7:02 AM.

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