27 April 1998
- Other (None)
Space Access '98 Notes
Peroxide, tethers, and regulations were hot topics
by Sam Coniglio

April 17-19, 1998

This year’s Space Access event in Scottsdale, Arizona was the best to date. More people than ever attended, and the variety of topics increased. An event by rocket engineers for rocket engineers, Henry Vanderbilt’s casual organizational style was perfect for them.

Good news was rampant. Several new companies have been formed, and even the U.S. Federal Government was starting to get a clue.

On a sad note: This is the first Space Access without G. Harry Stine. He was a pivotal figure in starting the new space revolution, and he will be sorely missed. His wife, Barbara, spoke to the attendees about the G. Harry Stine Space Pioneers Memorial Fund. The fund is for a scholarship for young people to promote rocketry and space education. Please send you donations to the following address:

The G. Harry Stine Space Pioneers Memorial Fund
6012 E. Hidden Valley Drive
Cave Creek, AZ 85331-8555

The following are highlights of the presentations.

Friday, April 17

Henry Spencer, a long time sci.space.policy member and space historian, gave us some basic introductions to the major issues facing the space industry. Some of these issues are:
  • Staging - Saves weight, but add complexity
  • Air Breathing Propulsion - natural extension of aircraft engines, but is much heavier than rockets
  • Wings - less powerful engines needed, but adds complexity to design
  • Reusability - ultimate goal, but maintenance becomes important
  • Dumb versus Smart Boosters - cost and complexity are factors
  • Dense Fuels - the myth of hydrogen as the “perfect” fuel has overshadowed other fuels
  • Cross Range - how far off course can you maneuver your vehicle?
  • Big versus Small - small payloads are more common; it is more efficient to launch many small rockets instead of one big one.

David Salt once again gave an overview of the European space activities. As usual, the advanced projects at ESA and Arianespace were based on the Ariane 5 or the USA’s SSTO vehicles. The FESTIP and FLTP programs are paper studies, with no chance of metal being cut.

For more information, check out the web site at:

The first panel discussion of the conference was “Access Politics 1998.” Tim Kyger (USL), Charles Miller (ProSpace), and Henry Vanderbilt (SAS) discussed the recent history of space politics. Since the beginning of the space age, governments ran space activities because they were perceived as too expensive. The Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986 showed glaring flaws in NASA management. The DC-X test program from 1993-1996 showed that alternatives were available to the status quo. In 1997, the world commercial space launches and revenue exceeded government launched and revenue for the first time. Now that several dozen startup rocket companies are emerging, commercial growth should continue to grow. If the government subsidies of competition can be prevented, then the free market will determine the new space launch leaders.

The next two years will be the roughest for the small launch businesses because:
  1. Government subsidized EELVs will be available, causing a threat to non-subsidized businesses
  2. Subsidized Shuttle privatization by NASA and United Space Alliance could eat away at the satellite launch market
  3. Development of the Venture Star may make Wall Street think twice about investing in private space ventures

There is $750 million in unallocated funding at NASA. Charles “Chaz” Miller sees the following options for those funds:
  • Shuttle Forever - NASA spends the money to keep shuttle alive for as long as possible
  • Venture Star Subsidy - while not technically legal, could happen if Lockheed Martin lobbies hard enough
  • Additional X Vehicles - more R&D funding for small projects would be good
  • Commercial Procurement - NASA could procure launches from the new start up companies.

The group compared NASA and the big contractors as the Dinosaurs, and the new startups as mammals. As long as the dinosaurs are distracted by space station and X-33, they may ignore the mammals until they are ready to compete.

Saturday, April 18

Gary Hudson started the morning with an update of Rotary Rocket Company’s activities. He says that all the new rocket companies have the three same challenges:
  • Financing
  • Regulatory
  • Technical
The key is implementation. As more money comes into a company, it can talk less and less about its projects. Wall Street doesn’t care about engineering, it cares about implementation.
Rotary Rocket Company will conduct full size tests of its vehicle in 1999. The vehicle will be manned. The crew cabin seats two, but future versions will seat more. Rotary is looking into bladed and non-bladed versions for larger vehicles.

For more information, check out the web site at:

Jordan Kare spoke about his company, Tethers Unlimited. There are three types of tethers:
  • Passive - used to hold two satellites of equal mass together
  • Electrodynamic - use the Earth’s magnetic field to generate electricity
  • Rotating- used for transportation
The Hoytether, named after its inventor, Dr. Robert P. Hoyt, consists of multiple strands threaded into a hollow tube.
Tethers Unlimited is offering a new type of tether called the Terminator Tether. Added to a satellite, the Terminating tether is a low cost and low weight alternative to steering thrusters. When a satellite is no longer useful, a command is sent to activate the tether, which drags the satellite into a lower orbit, causing it to eventually reenter the atmosphere. Several of the LEO satellite manufacturers are interested. At the moment, Tethers Unlimited needs $10 million to develop a prototype.

For more information, check out the web site at:

Shubber Ali of KPMG Space and Technology Practice, discussed his company’s perspective on the space market outlook. Quite unexpectedly, KPMG’s views closely matched those of the Space Access Society.
Investors are primarily looking at IRR, or Investment Rate of Return, when they look at a company. KPMG sees two scenarios for future space development:
  • Scenario 1: With the cost per pound of payload still around $10,000, very little with change. There will be more robotic exploration, since it is cost effective. R&D projects will be subsidized. The U.S. Department of Defense will monopolize all space activity, for “National Security” reasons. The demand communication and remote sensing satellites will rise, then level off.
  • Scenario 2: If the cost per pound of payload can be reduced to around $100, launch demand will increase exponentially. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration will have to create a space traffic control system to deal with large number launches and landings. The DoD will have dual procurement mind set: use its own vehicles, but also purchase some third party vehicles. NASA will support more R&D for transportation, and the space station’s role will be more commerce-oriented.
The barriers to scenario 2 come from bother the government and commercial sectors:
  • Government - launch procedures are outdated; R&D is inconsistently funded; existing legal policy and infrastructure favor government systems.
  • Commercial - Spacecraft are unreliable; access to space is extremely expensive; launch frequency is unreliable.
Compared to commercial aircraft, which have 99.999% success rate, the Space Shuttle’s 1 in 100 chance of failure is too high.
The spacecraft industry needs to learn from the aircraft industry. Find ways to decrease operational costs. Increase spacecraft reliability, especially for reusable vehicles. These things will increase customer acceptance of spacecraft.
No one knows when the RLVs will satisfy existing demand, and then be able to generate new markets. When the price drops, will new markets be ready for the RLVs?

For more information check out the web site at:

Bob Conger discussed Microcosm’s development of the Scorpius launch vehicle for SDIO and the U.S. Air Force. One unique feature of the vehicle is its simplicity: the engine has only 38 parts (most engines have about 15,000). The engine’s exhaust nozzle uses ablative material that slowly burns away as the vehicle rises. “Since you are throwing away the rocket,” Conger says, “you might as well make the engine disposable.”

For more information check out the web site at:

The second Panel was “Space Transport Investment In Transition: Accessing the Capital Markets.” Stephen Fleming of Alliance Technology Ventures gave a quick introduction to aerospace financing. The rest of the panelists were: Shubber Ali (KPMG), Rick Giarrusso (Rotary Rocket Company), and Chuck Lauer (Pioneer Rocketplane/Orbital Properties, LLC).
Mr. Fleming spoke about the pros and cons of three types of financing:
  • Debt - Pro: You use other people’s money. Con: They want their money back in monthly installments
  • Equity - Pro: No monthly payments, and the investor wants success. Con: You sell ownership of the company, you have to deal with a Board of Directors, and you need an Exit strategy just in case things go wrong.
  • Bootstrapping - Pro: no loss of ownership, no payments, and no covenants. Con: Very difficult to capitalize, and it puts much stress on your marriage
The new space company can learn lessons from Silicon Valley: it is a large, fast growing market, and it has a unique technology advantage
The panel discussed Angel Investors. These are rich people looking for something to invest in. Stephen have more info on Angel Investors at his web site: http://www.atv.com
An important thing is to plan how much money your company needs, then plan a strategy how to get that money. Fear and Greed drive the markets, so this should be put into consideration. Beware of IPOs: the reason to go public on the stock market is to raise capital you could not otherwise get.

After lunch, Jerry Rising of Lockheed Martin gave an update to the X-33 and Venture Star program. The presentation sounded like one given to NASA managers. It showed how the X-33 development and partners were spread through 8 NASA centers and 4 US Air Force centers. 29 commercial and government entities were involved in over a dozen states. Needless to say, the Space Access crowd saw this as typical NASA/contractor bureaucracy, and questioned whether Lockheed Martin the government was going to be coerced into investing more money into the project.

For more information, check out the web site at:

Ron Schena discussed the US Air Force’s proposed Military Space Plane. Also known as the Space Operations Vehicle, the Air Force was doing studies on a X-33 like vehicle.

Tim Pleasant gave the audience a crash course into the harsh reality of insurance, liability, space laws, and regulations.

The third Panel was “Regulatory Reform and Reusable Rockets.” The panelists were Gary Hudson, Charles Miller, Tim Pleasant, and Les Tennen.

Space is the new legal frontier. New concepts are emerging which lawyers, regulators and companies have to deal with. Rotary Rocket has spent $2 million so far in developing the regulatory process.

An extraordinary situation has developed that will greatly benefits the small launch companies. The Advanced Space Transportation (AST) office at the FAA is a small body of regulators who are eager for feedback from the general public. They want to know how to regulate the small space companies. They are not concerned with the big aerospace companies.

At present, any company requesting a launch license is forced to conduct an environmental review of every facility the company owns, even office buildings. Another issue is the fact that no one can legally land a rocket. These rules are changing but some companies are not going to wait.

There was discussion about Kistler’s decision to do its flight testing in Australia. Gary Hudson’s response was, “One company moving offshore is a renegade. Two companies moving offshore is a political statement.”

The speakers proposed an overhaul of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. As it is written, any American person or company launches a rocket, the U.S. Government is liable. Even if the launch is offshore.

Tim Pleasant reminded the audience that in English Common Law, if something is not regulated, you can still do it. Thank goodness.

Barbara Stine, the wife of the late G. Harry Stine, spoke to the audience. She spoke of the G. Harry Stine Space Pioneer Fund. She is building an endowment fund through the National Association of Model Rocketry. The endowment would be for scholarships to students from high school through college age who promote rocketry and space.

Mrs. Stine spoke of the books he completed before he died last November. “Halfway to Anywhere” is being released in trade paperback with a new chapter. “Living in Space” is being released in a 2nd printing. Finally, his classic book, “The Third Industrial Revolution,” was completely rewritten. Renamed “The Mana Project,” it will be published in the fall by M. Evans and Company.

One of her other projects is to develop a Rocketry Museum and a Research Library. G. Harry has worked on rocketry for over forty years, and it will take some time to get his work organized. Mrs. Stine was thanked by a standing ovation.

After dinner, the fourth panel session was about “Reusable Launcher Design Approaches.” The panelists were Dan DeLong from Rotary, Henry Spencer, Max Hunter, and Mitch Clapp of Pioneer. The discussion started on unusual propellants and unusual materials for rockets. Peroxide and kerosene were touted as favorable alternatives to liquid hydrogen, since they are not as hard to obtain and store. The discussions got very technical, talking about delta V (change in velocity) to orbit changes with altitude, and the comparison of thrust versus ISPand gravity loss.

Max Hunter was impressed by the fallout from the DC-X program, which has inspired many people to start their own rocket companies. He said, “I still think we should be moving faster. Don’t wait for R&D.”

Pat Bahn, a long time member of SAS, presented his new company, TGV Rockets. Promoted as “Rockets for Ordinary People,” his company is developing easy to make sounding rockets. A virtual company, its employees are spread across 9 time zones and do almost all their work on the Internet.

The Michelle Series is an evolutionary development program of reusable rockets. The fuels are peroxide and hydrocarbon. The maximum velocity is Mach 5, so there is no need for extraordinary materials for the vehicle.

The markets for the rocket series are the following:
  • Amateur
  • Sounding Studies
  • Hypersonic Data Collection
  • Military Tactical

Here are the plans for each evolution of the series
  • Michelle 0 - Static test (most of which is made of cardboard, under construction now)
  • Michelle 1 - Basic flying test bed
  • Michelle 3 - Launch 20 Kg to the upper atmosphere
  • Michelle 5 - Launch 2,000 Kg to the sub orbital level

For more information, check out the web site at:

Joe Carroll discussed his experiments with tether satellites. His vehicle, the Small Expendable tether Deployment System (SEDS), can be used to boost a payload to a higher orbit, or to deorbit a spent booster stage. SEDS has flown three times:
  1. A 20 KM tether was used to deorbit a payload from a Delta rocket
  2. Stabilized two objects 20 Km apart (it was accidentally cut after 3.7 days)
  3. TiPS program - stabilized two objects 4 Km apart (still OK after 660 days)
The TiPS program was funded by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and built and launched by the Naval Research Lab.
The tethers used were simply a hollow string with a rayon center. Research has shown that a hollow tether may survive impact from debris better than single strand tether. Mr. Carroll also showed a video of the stabilization tether experiment. You could see very clearly a satellite and its tether, even with the naked eye.

David Buehler talked about lowering the cost to orbit by using extraterrestrial resources.

Tom Jaquish talked about using a circulating ion beam drive for propulsion.

Michael Wallis gave a report on the Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society.
For more information, check out the web site at:

Sunday, April 19

Tim Kyger started the morning with a status report of Universal Space Lines. USL plans to become the all purpose support company for other launch companies. It consists of four companies:
  • Universal Space Lines - Offers launch vehicle marketing services
  • Universal Space Ware - Offers antennas and other equipment
  • Universal Space Network - Offers space craft communication services
  • Rocket Development Company - Offers a low cost expendable rocket
A fifth space company is in the works that will focus on developing reusable rockets.

The Rocket Development Company is developing two types of expendable vehicles:
  • Intrepid 1 - NASA Bantam class vehicle will carry an 800 lb payload to 200 miles. Cost to build: around $6 million
  • Intrepid 3 - designed to launch communication satellites such as Iridium. Cost to build: around $12 million
Both vehicles are being built using parts from non-aerospace suppliers. This makes the vehicle 1/10 the normal cost of a rocket. The rockets use very inefficient, but cheap rocket engines. Everything is optimized for cost.
Two test flights are planned in year 2000, and they will be operational in 2001.

Since USL was formed by Pete Conrad and most of the original DC-X team, it made sense that Bill Gaubatz, former program manager, would join the company. Another rumor has it that Col. Jess Sponable, one of the Air Force’s key men for DC-X, is retiring, and may be joining USL.

Laurie Wiggins discussed the System Definition Process. She said something that should be the mantra for NASA, “Don’t design what you cannot build.” Identifying the requirements for a project is a critical part of the development process. For any given project, resolving a problem during the test phase cost four times as much as resolving it during the design phase. It costs 100% more to resolve a problem during operations. “If you could find problems during the design phase, you could save $1 million. Band aids only double your expenses.”

Mitch Clapp gave a status report of Pioneer Rocketplane in his usual humorous manner. The vehicle’s first test flight will be in year 2000, and it will be operational in 2001. the pilot will have full control over the vehicle at all times. The RLV capability will be tested incrementally, starting with small payloads. One important feature of the Pioneer vehicle is that it is still an aircraft. It can be flown to a satellite’s manufacturing facility, and be loaded with the payload. Then the vehicle can fly up to the refueling plane at 16-22,000 feet. Once fueled with liquid oxygen, the vehicle can rocket to 70 nautical miles, and then release its payload. The price for the vehicle are similar to an aircraft.

For more information, check out the web site at:

Phil Sumrall of NASA discussed the Future-X program. Most of his presentation mirrored the information on the NASA web site.

For more information, check out the web site at:

Max Hunter, veteran rocket engineer, came to his presentation with a T-shirt that boldly proclaimed “I AM a rocket scientist.” No one can doubt that claim. He talked about the history of the Single Stage to Orbit ( SSTO). He briefly covered the major designs, from the RITA nuclear powered rocket of the late fifties to Philip Bono’s Rhombus, Gary Hudson’s Phoenix, and culminating with Delta Clipper Experimental (DC-X) in 1993-96. He described how he and Jerry Pournelle, the science fiction author, had an audience with Vice President Dan Quayle in 1989, and proposed building a vehicle that would eventually become DC-X. The DC-X’s original design used liquid oxygen and kerosene.

Mr. Hunter gave a detailed description estimating vehicle mass, vehicle cost , and propellant cost. For an optimum sized rocket, he recommended many medium sized vehicles, instead of a few heavy vehicles.

Mr. Hunter’s philosophy: “Never deal with happy engineers. You need engineers who are scared out of their wits... They design good rockets.”

Dr. Bruce Dunn of University of British Columbia discussed his design for a low cost hydrogen peroxide upper stage rocket. His uses one fuel tank that contains a bladder with peroxide, and propylene fuel above the bladder. As the propylene evaporates, it pressurizes the tank, and forces the peroxide to the tank through a tube at the bottom. At the same time, the liquid propylene is withdrawn via a feed line on top of the shrinking bladder. The engine uses a catalyst to decompose the peroxide. The resulting hot gases ignite the propylene, and propel the vehicle.

Another panel session was about the “Implications of Orbital Operations for Cheap Access.” Members of the panel were Rand Simberg of Interglobal Space Lines, Ben Muniz of Space Frontier Foundation, Chuck Lauer of Pioneer Rocketplane, and Jordan Kare of Tethers Unlimited.

An issue facing industry today is what to do with satellites placed in the wrong orbits? Someone needs to find a way to rescue that perfectly good multi-million dollar piece of hardware, and put it into proper orbit. This activity has a large potential market. Chuck Lauer suggested a reusable payload booster. The booster stays in orbit, gets refueled in orbit, and stays docked at some kind of depot when not used.

Another issue is which orbit should be used for which type of business? A 45 degree inclination would be good for tourists because they can see their favorite continents. A zero degree inclination would be ideal for industrial facilities.

Logistics are critical. The number of resupply flights possible determine the cost of keeping people in space for extended periods of time. It is the scale of economics: the more you can do, the cost is less.

Once again the classic debate of NASA’s International Space Station arose. “You assume the purpose of the space station program is to put up a space station,” said one panelist. Many people at SAS agree that the ISS program has a bureaucratic life of its own, and NASA may fear that its mistakes will be seen by the world when the station actually gets built and it does not work. Pessimism aside, there was discussion of privatizing the space station. A Space Port Authority should be formed to lease out space on the station for commercial use.

Another perspective was comparing space as an industrial activity. Space operations cost ten times more than deep sea operations, yet the challenges and technologies are similar.

The final panel was with the Internet news group sci.space "mafia." Four regular contributors to the news groups were there: Ed White, Bruce Dunn, Henry Spencer, and the mysterious "PRB" (Pat Bahn wearing a paper bag). They made predictions for next year and in the next five years.

In one year:
  • “Chaz” Miller will have less hair :-)
  • Henry Vanderbilt will have more hair (even bigger sideburns) :-)
  • Three people will be playing with Iridium phones at the conference
  • At least one rocket company will fail
  • Yet another LEO satellite constellation will be proposed by a major company
  • One or two new space companies will emerge
  • Arianespace will still be fiddling with Ariane 5
  • Hughes will have an even heavier satellite that present launchers will have a hard time flying
  • Space station will be delayed once again

In five years:
  • There will be an X Prize winner, but the prize will have no money (there will be announcement May 20 to take care of that issue)
  • One RLV will be flying high dollar passengers
  • MIR will still be flying, barely
  • There will be another shuttle accident, possibly a “hard” landing
  • Plans for a lunar colony will be formulated
  • The Shuttle and the converted ICBMs will become irrelevant
  • The U.S. military will still be researching a space plane

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Sam Coniglio 27 April 1998
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