International Space: Space Race or Federation

Fifty years later and it is amazing how many still long for another space race. The logic goes something like this, “If we had another Space Race then the public and therefore congress would fully fund American Space Exploration.” As you can imagine there are many strong opinions about the validity of that logic, but at the AAS 2007 national conference titled “Celebrating Fifty Years – But, What’s Next?” I recently heard two opinions that greatly resonated with me. The first was that the initial Space Race must be couched in the context of that time and the global context of today is very different. The second was from the collaborative, social networking culture of Generation Y and their desire to see a global effort to expand our presence in Space. As the speaker shared the Generation Y opinions of the future, what came to mind were the beginnings of “The Federation” for all of you Star Trek fans.

But not only is the context different today and the perspectives of the next Generation very different from 50 years ago, the International Space community is much more than just two super powers. In the World Prospects for Government Space Markets Report available from Euroconsult, an in-depth analysis on government civil and military space is captured for the 35 leading countries and organizations, along with insights into the 48 emerging national programs. The first time I saw the below chart I was surprised by some of the emerging programs. Although not shown here, the report also highlights Mexico’s plans to create a Mexican Space Agency, or AEXA, for short.

Yes, all of these nations are not involved in the Human Exploration of Space but the number is greater than 2 and growing. Secondly this chart makes the point that space competencies are being found in an ever expanding global community. This growth is being fueled not just by national pride but also by a growing realization that innovation leads to national wealth and attracts more business. For some great insight into this, I would recommend Innovation Nation by John Kao. (More on Innovation in a future blog.) Or for a shorter read, look at the Road map drafted between Russia and the European Union that highlights space as an area of focus for economic growth, Road Map For The Common Economic Space – Building Blocks For Sustained Economic Growth. OK, so what about Space Exploration? I think that JAXA captures it best in their video presentation of their JAXA Vision – JAXA 2025. In the video it shows a moon populated with bases from multiple nations. Currently Russia, (Russia to send manned mission to the Moon by 2025), China (China Plans to Land on Moon By 2024), India, (Indian scientists support human space mission) and Japan are planning human missions to the moon. When those countries arrive they will find other vehicles in the space around the moon and on the lunar surface. Last year “British space scientists said they plan to undertake the country’s first mission to the moon by the end of the decade. Germany also plans an unmanned flight to the moon by 2013. Beside Germany and UK, China, Japan, India and Italy have similar plans.” (see Russia Plans To Go On the Moon). So with all of these countries heading out beyond Low Earth Orbit can you truly call it a race? Or will the better measure of success be who has the greatest staying power? Which nation, once they land on the lunar surface, will establish a lasting presence on the moon? Or better yet, who will partner with whom to reach to the moon and beyond?

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the future of space exploration is the partnerships that are being created for this “New Space Age”. Russia is partnering with ESA to create the Clipper Spacecraft. Russia and India are joining in a moon mission and China is partnering with Nigeria and Venezuela. Earlier this year it was announced that NASA and India have signed an agreement for future cooperation. Yet, more intriguing than the new collaborations is who isn’t included in the team. The original 2 space faring nations are not always included in the teaming arrangements.

Adding this to the changing environment in commercial space that I shared last time makes me believe that the next 20 years will be quite different from the past 50. It offers a great deal of opportunity for NASA and a challenge. The opportunity lies in the potential partnerships that we can leverage and the growing expertise that we can tap into globally. The challenge is to decide if this future environment will necessitate a new or more focused role for JSC and the other NASA centers. Therefore, the question I leave for you this week is whether our role (or if you prefer, the unique value we offer) should change in the future and if so what should it be?

Sharing the Vision –
Steven Gonzalez, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

Commercial Space: Is LEO about to get a little more crowded?

On Monday, January 7th, 2008, at the JSC All Hands, the NASA Administrator was asked to comment on Commercial Space. As he has done in many forums, he shared the analogy of how the commercial airline industry was spurred on by the investment made by the government to transport cargo (primarily mail) which in turn leads to commercial airline travel. With this as a backdrop, he reiterated his commitment to the investment that NASA is making in the COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation System) program for transporting cargo to the International Space Station. His stated desire is to get the agency focused on the business of Space exploration and to eventually buy services to low Earth orbit.

I applaud this strategy and at the same time find it interesting how split the space exploration community is on the viability of commercial access to space. Critics believe that as long as we launch on rockets, the commercial community will never be able to make it safe enough for access by the general public and will therefore have a difficult time in making a profit. Alternatively, there are reports by companies like Futron that project the potential space tourism market.

Regardless of on which side of the fence you find yourself, there was one compelling statement made last year by a consultant who does scenario planning for various organizations and industries. When we asked him what he thought about Commercial Space, he stated that he couldn’t comment on their success, but he could state that the collective amount of discretionary funding available by the “New Space” community exceeds the NASA budget. He also stated that they are focused on only one goal, access to space and with that amount of investment focused on one goal; it is only a matter of time before they are successful. So what are some of the investments being made outside of NASA?

Commercial Space Ports

In 2004 MSNBC published this map of the current and future space ports. Since then New Mexico’s Spaceport America was approved by voters and in December, 2005 Sir Richard Branson announced that New Mexico will be Virgin Galactic’s world headquarters. The list continues to grow including the following locations Sheboygan, Wisconsin and Blue Origin’s goal to open a space port in West Texas to the list of space ports in the US.

Internationally, Spaceports are being developed in the most unlikely of places. Pictured to the left is an artist’s illustration of Space Adventures’ concept for a spaceport outside Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Virgin Galactic also recently announced that it would host sub orbital flights into the Northern lights from Spaceport Sweden. Along with Spaceport Scotland, Spaceport Singapore (shown below) is expected to provide suborbital spaceflights, parabolic aircraft flights and other space tourism experiences.

Commercial Access to Space

Space Frontier maintains a growing list of the next Generation of Space companies that are entering the commercial space market. The list includes the New Space Launch Service Companies like SpaceX(COTS award recipient), Airlaunch LLC, Armadillo Space, and Blue Origin. Their list also includes Companies Marketing Russian/Ukrainian Launchers and Space & Zero-G Tourism and Training Companies. Among the more interesting ones are those focused on tourism like Space Adventures and Japan’s first space travel company, Spacetopia. Also intriguing is the company whose goal is to develop the premier crew training program for suborbital flight, Orbital Commerce project. Another growing list on their website is the Infrastructure/Subsystems Companies like Bigelow Aerospace, with whom JSC has an active Space Act agreement to share our expertise and knowledge.

Yet even their list is not complete. There are many more interested in ensuring a continual presence in low Earth orbit and beyond. JSC alumni and astronaut, Leroy Chiao, is working with Excalibur Almaz, who plans on offering week-long flights that deposit tourists at modernized, Russian-designed space stations. Or one of my favorites,The Galactic Suite Space Resort that will “provide a fully integrated space tourism experience by weaving together an astronaut training process with a relaxing time in a tropical paradise island as the preparation for this space journey.” There are also those with their sights beyond LEO, as witnessed by 4Frontiers Corporation, an emerging space commerce company focused on the settlement of Mars. Will they all be successful? Probably not. But what if a handful are successful? Or even just one commercial provider to sub orbit or orbit turns a profit? What will be the ripple effect be to NASA? What impact, if any, will it have on our role in the Human Exploration of Space?

Next time, the International Space community.

Sharing the Vision –
Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office