Commercialization: November 2015 Archives

XCOR Co-Founders Establish New Company, Space News

"The three left XCOR to found a new company, Agile Aero. That company, which, like XCOR, is based in Midland, Texas, will be focused on addressing a problem Greason says has afflicted XCOR and other aerospace companies: the inability to rapidly develop and test vehicles, be they high-speed aircraft or launch vehicles. "We've seen so many companies run into the same obstacle," he said in an interview. "Once you get past cylindrical designs into vehicles that have lift in the atmosphere, the complexity gets to the point where the ability of people to try things rapidly, and succeed or fail fast, runs out of steam."

XCOR Aerospace co-founders launch new startup: Agile Aero for the next frontier, Geekwire

"Greason noted that the past few years have seen a dramatic uptick in the pace of development for small satellites and rocket engines, but that "nobody has had much luck with rapid-prototyping [advanced aerospace] vehicles, except for making missile shapes." "We don't know exactly how to do it yet, but we have a clear understanding of the challenge," he said."

XCOR Space Expeditions Announces New Ticket Price as Lynx Approaches Completion, XCOR

"XCOR Space Expeditions announced that it will raise the price of a flight aboard XCOR Lynx from $100,000 to $150,000 effective January 1st, 2016."

Keith's note: So ... the guys who founded and ran XCOR are leaving XCOR to start a new company that will solve the problems that they could not solve at XCOR. It does not seem like they have a good track record in that regard (both DeLong and Greason had prominent roles at Rotary Rocket). Just sayin'.

President Obama Signs Bill Recognizing Asteroid Resource Property Rights into Law, Planetary Resources

"Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining company, applauds President Obama who signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (H.R. 2262) into law. This law recognizes the right of U.S. citizens to own asteroid resources they obtain and encourages the commercial exploration and utilization of resources from asteroids."

U.S. space-mining law seen leading to possible treaty violations, CBC

"My view is that natural resources [in space] should not be allowed to be appropriated by anyone states, private companies, or international organizations," said Ram Jakhu, a professor at McGill University's institute of air and space law. He said the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, signed by the U.S. and other countries, including Canada, makes it clear that the surfaces and contents of asteroids and other celestial bodies are protected from commercial harvesting."

The commercial space race, Ottawa Citizen

"If asteroids cannot be appropriated by any state, they can also never be owned by a company, and that includes parts of an asteroid that might be extracted. Any notion of property law which would allow a person to possess, use or sell an object, depend upon the existence of a sovereign jurisdiction. The U.S. cannot give away what it does not own."

Obama boosts asteroid mining, signs law granting rights to own space riches, Mining.com

"It remains unknown whether the unilateral move by the U.S. to claim space ownership is valid. According to the Outer Space Treaty, signed by the U.S., Russia, and a number of other countries, nations can't own territory in space. "Outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States," the treaty says, adding that "outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means." The new law, however, does include a very important clause, as it clarifies that it does not grant "sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body."

What Blue Origin Did

There's a major difference between SpaceX and Blue Origin that makes them incomparable, Business Insider

"We congratulate Blue Origin on the progress they're making with vertical take-off and landing of their booster." That said, it's important to know the difference between the two companies their goals, and, most of all, their reusable rocket technology."

It'd be way harder for Bezos' rocket to get into orbit than just space, Wired

"This feat raises some questions and some hackles, judging by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's response to Bezos' announcement on Twitter, defending his own company's strides toward reusable rockets. Let's take a look at a few of the issues."

Neil deGrasse Tyson: 'The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier', The Verge

"The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier. That's just not going to happen, and it's not going to happen for three really good reasons: One, it is very expensive. Two, it is very dangerous to do it first. Three, there is essentially no return on that investment that you've put in for having done it first. So if you're going to bring in investors or venture capitalists and say, "Hey, I have an idea, I want to put the first humans on Mars." They'll ask, "How much will it cost?" You say, "A lot." They'll ask, "Is it dangerous?" You'll say, "Yes, people will probably die." They'll ask, "What's the return on investment?" and you'll say "Probably nothing, initially." It's a five-minute meeting. Corporations need business models, and they need to satisfy shareholders, public or private."

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Don't leave space exploration up to private companies, BGR

"Private enterprise will never lead a space frontier," Tyson told me in a phone interview. "In all the history of human conduct, it's as clear to me as day follows night that private enterprise won't do that, because it's expensive. It's dangerous. You have uncertainty and risks, because you're dealing with things that haven't been done before. That's what it means to be on a frontier."

Keith's note: Neil Tyson may be a smart astronomer type of guy but he doesn't understand business - certainly not the model that is working for Elon Musk rather nicely thus far in SpaceX and elsewhere. Nor does Tyson have the resources that Musk has or understand why successful entities like Google have invested. Rather, Tyson's tactic on human and commercial space flight thus far seems to be to whine and inject doubt whenever he can. And he is clearly unhappy and grumpy when people continue to succeed in commercial and/human spaceflight.

Blue Origin Makes Historic Rocket Landing [With Video]

"Blue Origin today announced that its New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a historic landing back at the launch site in West Texas."

"Blue Origin's reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission--soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can't wait to fuel up and fly again."

Marc's note: Congratulations to the Blue Origin team. This is indeed an historic milestone in the history of flight. Now, how about providing some more details on the crew capsule and how it performed?

Blue Origin Flies and Lands New Shepard Suborbital Spacecraft, Space News

"The successful flight keeps Blue Origin on track to begin commercial flights of uncrewed research payloads by the middle of 2016, a goal recently stated by company officials. Bezos told reporters he hoped to to start flying people on New Shepard in a couple of years, depending on the progress made during test flights. "As much as I would like to put humans on that vehicle and fly it as soon as possible," he said, "the reality is that we'll enter commercial operations withat that vehicle when we're ready, and not before."

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station

"NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil. This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May."

Letter from Rep. Sensenbrenner to NASA Administrator Bolden Regarding Acquisition Issues

"I am writing to request information about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) policy with respect to full and open competition in the acquisition process. NASA is in the midst of an up-to ten-year $1.3 billion dollar technology purchase known as the NASA Integrated Communications Service (NICS) contract. Such a large and important technology purchase should follow both the letter and spirit of full and open competition laws, regulations, and Office of Management and Budget guidelines to ensure that NASA, and the taxpayer, get the best value for their investment, as well as the best and most cost-effective solutions to meet mission requirements. ... It has come to my attention that, pursuant to NICS, there is an Approved Products List (APL) developed by the contractor. The APL governs which products can be purchased for NASA systems and networks, and likely will impact NASA acquisitions for years to come. Interestingly, every approved product listed on the NICS LAN wired and wireless network APL belongs to a single manufacturer. At the same time, alternate vendors that have supplied network equipment to NASA, and successfully met mission requirements, have not been evaluated for inclusion on the APL for current and future purchases, despite requesting an opportunity to be evaluated."

- Rep. Sensenbrenner Seeks Answers on NASA Contracting Practices
- Letter from Rep. Sensenbrenner to NASA IG Martin Regarding Acquisition Issues

United Launch Alliance Reveals Transformational CubeSat Launch Program

"ULA will offer universities the chance to compete for at least six CubeSat launch slots on two Atlas V missions, with a goal to eventually add university CubeSat slots to nearly every Atlas and Vulcan launch," said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. "There is a growing need for universities to have access and availability to launch their CubeSats and this program will transform the way these universities get to space by making space more affordable and accessible."

Another NewSpace Casualty?

Microsoft Co-Founder's Space Project Is in Limbo, Wall Street Journal

"The ambitious venture appears to be on hold, these officials said, because the Microsoft Corp. co-founder hasn't announced a replacement rocket supplier for the original contractor that dropped out months ago. At this point, project officials haven't provided even the broad outlines of technology that could be used in the future, a development timetable or how they plan to launch significantly larger numbers of smaller satellites than originally envisioned."

Golden Spike: Another Space Commerce Casualty? (Update), earlier post

"A month Two months later and the website still says "under construction".

Keith's note: CASIS is tasked to manage the portion of the International Space Station designated as the ISS National Laboratory. But other than NASA funding, CASIS has failed to attract any significant income other than that provided - by NASA. Yet they want you to think that people beating a path to their door with multi-million dollar "commitments" in hand. Exactly what are these CASIS "commitments"?

According to the CASIS Strategic Plan, page 11, CASIS says that it will "Develop a robust financial model to supplement government funding. CASIS funding from NASA is currently projected at $15M per year, to cover operating costs and to provide seed money for promising R&D. To meet the variety of demands on personnel, infrastructure, business processes and outreach that will grow over time, CASIS must develop additional resources in the form of partnerships and funding and create rigorous business and economic models in order to sustain these. Sources will include private financiers, corporate sponsorship, philanthropists and federal grants that may leverage cost sharing and equity investment in new ventures. Additionally, CASIS will practice management excellence in its operating models to ensure costs are minimized while ISS utilization is maximized effectively toward mission success."

In its April 2015 report "International Space Station: Measurable Performance Targets and Documentation Needed to Better Assess Management of National Laboratory" the GAO noted (page 7) "According to the cooperative agreement, CASIS will solicit non-NASA funding for research by targeting various sources such as government grants, foundation funding, charitable contributions, private equity, venture financing, and private investors and facilitate matching of projects that meet the research objectives with those qualified funding sources."

So it is quite clear that CASIS is supposed to be out beating the bushes looking for funding and contributions. So far their success is puzzling to say the least. On one hand they claim to be making all manner of agreements and relationships with the private sector but when it comes to documenting actual contributions, well. There really are none - at least not the kind that a non-profit organization usually documents i.e. cash or in-kind donations.

Keith's note: Many people are pleased that the SPACE Act made it through the House yesterday. This legislation does a lot to support NASA's plans for going to Mars as well as various commercial efforts and things such as mining asteroids. There is something good in it for just about every space advocate. While a lot of individuals and organizations were quick to express their approval, others have been curiously silent. No statement seems to be available from the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration despite all of the things in it that directly support the organization's avowed interests in sending humans to Mars. Nothing from the Planetary Society either - yet their co-founder stated yesterday that "Humans will become a multi-planet species by making it to Mars, but no farther. That is, they will never travel beyond Mars." so ... maybe they are not as enthusiastic about this legislation. Curiously, the two Mars-oriented groups Mars Society and Explore Mars are silent too. Meanwhile on the Asteroid utilization front, the usually bubbly Space Frontier Foundation is silent as well. Why bother communicating to the public you purport to enlighten about space when important news like this happens, eh?

Space utilization and exploration happens in spite of space advocates - not because of them.

- Satellite Industry Association Applauds Congress for Passing Long-term Extension of Commercial Space Launch Indemnification
- National Space Society Urges Presidential Signing of the Final Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act
- CSF Applauds House Passage of Visionary, Comprehensive, and Bipartisan Commercial Space Legislation

House Passes SPACE Act

House Sends Crucial Commercial Space Bill to President's Desk

"House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin (R-Texas) today praised passage of crucial legislation that provides guidance and certainty for American commercial space partners. The bicameral, bipartisan agreement on H.R. 2262, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, consolidates language from the House-passed SPACE Act with provisions from the Senate's commercial space legislation. It is now headed to the president's desk to be signed into law."

- Rep. McCarthy's Remarks for SPACE Act Debate (prepared)
- House Takes Up Commercial Space Legislation Today
- SPACE Act Action Expected Today
- Virgin Galactic Applauds the Passage of Legislation for Commercial Space Endeavours
- Moon Express Commends House for Historic Vote Supporting Private Sector Lunar Resource Exploration and Utilization
- Sen. Cruz: Congress Carries Reagan's Torch Forward with New U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act

Lockheed-Boeing venture says will not bid for US GPS satellite launch, Reuters

"United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, on Monday said it would not bid for the next U.S. Air Force global positioning system (GPS) satellite launch, effectively ceding the competition to privately held SpaceX. ULA, the monopoly provider of such launches since its creation in 2006, said it was unable to submit a compliant bid because of the way the competition was structured, and because it lacked Russian-built RD-180 engines for its Atlas 5 rocket."

Genes in Space Competition Launches, New England Biolabs

"Genes in Space, a competition aimed at fostering creativity, collaboration and critical thinking among young innovators opened a call for entries today. The competition challenges U.S. based students in grades seven through 12 to design an experiment that can solve a space exploration problem through DNA analysis. The competition is sponsored by miniPCR, Math for America (MA), Boeing, The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and New England Biolabs, Inc. (NEB). The winning experiment will be flown to the International Space Station (ISS)."

Keith's note: If you go to the CASIS website there is no mention of this competition. There is no mention of this cool idea at the NASA ISS National Laboratory website. No mention on Twitter at @ISS_CASIS or @ISS_Research. When it says that CASIS has sponsored this activity does that mean that they wrote a check? $15,000,000 a year and CASIS can't even tell people what they are doing with all this money?

CASIS is going to be briefing Mike Suffredini's replacement Kirk Shireman. Maybe they can explain their chronic under-performance to Shireman on simple things such as this.

Keith's update: @ISS_CASIS tweeted something late in the day - still nothing on their website etc.

Keith's note: Let's look at the media reach CASIS claims to have achieved in FY 2014. Page 32 of their FY 2014 Annual Report gives a summary (Larger image). This report represents what CASIS was capable of doing after being in operation for more than 3 years - after having received more than $42 million from NASA. Prior to this CASIS did not include these metrics in their reports. So this is the only snapshot we have.

In this 2014 summary CASIS claims to have issued 30 news releases. That's one release issued a bit more often than once every 2 weeks. They also claim to have had 30 media events in FY 2014 but do not explain what constitutes an "event". This could be a telecon or a full blown press conference. Hard to tell. They also claim to have had 3,891 "news mentions - clips, blogs". If you go to this page and click on "Media Reach" you get a page that shows for 2015 CASIS has (first 3 quarters) had 18 press releases, 19 media events, 3,065 news mentions, and 2,711 Twitter mentions. Not much has changed.

This is not very revealing. There are lots of news services that have automated systems that grab and repost press releases without any thought given to what the releases say. But the word "CASIS" gets counted none the less. 30 press releases automatically (and mindlessly) posted by several dozen of these automated systems each time one of these releases is issued could easily explain a large portion of these "news mentions".

Joint Commerce Committee Statement on Senate Passage of Bill to Boost Competitiveness of U.S. Space Industry

"U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee Chairman Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-Mich.) issued the following statements on the passage of H.R. 2262, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, a bicameral, bipartisan bill that encourages competitiveness, reflects the needs of a modern-day U.S. commercial space industry, and guarantees operation of the International Space Station until at least 2024. The bill builds on key elements in S. 1297 that the Commerce Committee approved earlier this year and passed the Senate on August 4, 2015."

- Planetary Resources Applauds U.S. Congress in Recognizing Asteroid Resource Property Rights, Planetary Resources
- McCarthy, Smith Praise Passage of Commercial Space Legislation
- CSF Applauds Senate Passage of Bipartisan Commercial Space Legislation, Commercial Spaceflight Federation
- New Law Enables Commercial Exploration and Use of Space Resources, Deep Space Industries

Musk's SpaceX Faces Competition for $3.5 Billion NASA Cargo Flights, Bloomberg

"Increased political scrutiny may provide an incentive to NASA to add more contractors to provide "back-up options" and avoid protests by losing bidders, said Nick Taborek, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. NASA isn't expected to gain additional funding from Congress, however, so adding new participants would probably mean less money for the current cargo haulers."

Keith's note: Despite articles like this and others, I detect no indication that a CRS-2 announcement is imminent i.e. today. PAO usually waits until the last minute but they do give media a heads up.

SLS/Orion Gets a Lobbying Organization in Washington (Update), earlier post

Keith's 3 Nov 12:19 am note: Have a look at Mary Lynne Dittmar's LinkedIn page (screengrab). It clearly says that she is a CASIS consultant "January 2015 - Present". She openly advertises this LinkedIn link on her Twitter profile (screengrab). Apparently the information on her LinkedIn page is inaccurate. Was she an "employee" of CASIS? No, she was a "consultant" - my error - and I am sorry for that mistake. But she was (and based on her email below, still is) paid by CASIS to perform work. That's the point. She clearly updated her LinkedIn page to include her new job - but left the CASIS consulting description as it was i.e. ongoing. I am not sure why I should apologize for assuming that this information was anything other than accurate. She sent this email (below) which I am posting in its entirety. I asked her via Twitter how she could do all these things and she has responded.

Keith's 3 Nov 8:20 am 3:30 11:30 pm update: Dittmar's LinkedIn page still says that she is currently a CASIS consultant.

Keith's 4 Nov 7:30 pm update:: It s still there.

As for the CASIS "contractor"issue, CASIS gets 99.96% of their funding from NASA and there is a contract in place whereby those funds are provided. As for the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration and lobbying the press release announcing its creation overtly stated that it intends to pursue 501(c)(6) status from the IRS. 501(c)(6) organizations are permitted to do unlimited lobbying - so long as that is not the primary purpose of the organization. Otherwise, you'd expect it to seek 501(c)(3) status. As for "internal documentation" it is "internal" - so how does someone on the outside know what it says?

Dittmar's email (below):


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This page is an archive of entries in the Commercialization category from November 2015.

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