20 November 1997
News - Other (None)
Space Frontier Conference VI Opens Space for Business
Government, Big Contractors, Mingle with Entrepreneurs
by Sam Coniglio
The future of mankind's space activities is in business, not government, predict the attendees of this year's conference. Hosted by the Space Frontier Foundation, the sixth annual gathering took place in Los Angeles from November 7-9, 1997.

The conference was dedicated to G. Harry Stine, who passed away a few days before the conference. Rocket pioneer, engineer, and writer, G. Harry helped clear the legal hurdles and set up the rules which allow children and adults to build and fly model rockets. His many works of fiction and non-fiction influenced many generations of space enthusiasts. He will be sorely missed. His family is setting up a scholarship fund in his honor.

The 3 day event covered such diverse topics as military space planes, the new spacecraft builders, commercializing the space station, federal regulations, and long term projects.

The first sessions covered space plane programs being developed by NASA and the US Air Force. Lieutenant Colonel Jess Sponable discussed the needs for a quick-turnaround military vehicle in the form of a Two Stage To Orbit ( TSTO) space plane.

Mr. Steve Stoyanov from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center described the new Future X program, which promotes the development of advanced spacecraft technologies.

Paul Klevatt, a manager at Boeing-Huntington Beach (formerly McDonnell Douglas DC-X Program manager), presented Boeing's proposed military space plane. It looks a lot like McDonnell Douglas' X-33 candidate vehicle.

At the Friday luncheon, we were given a progress report of the X-33 and Venture Star programs by Lockheed Martin's Jerry Rising. LM and NASA just concluded the Critical Design Review, and there were concerned about the test vehicle's excess weight. Flight tests are still planned for 1999.

In the afternoon, the conference focused on the "New Kids on the Block," the new start-up rocket companies.

Michael Kelly of Kelly Space and Technology gave a status report of the Eclipse spaceplane development. He presented a video of a towing test using a Dyke Delta experimental aircraft. A second video showed a vortex wake test between a F-106 fighter and a C-141 cargo plane. The spaceplane is a competitor for the X Prize competition. Mr. Kelly also announced the formation of Eclipse Space Lines to deal with day to day operations of the the Eclipse vehicle fleet.

The second presentation was by famous Dr. "Buzz" Aldrin. The former Apollo 11 astronaut was promoting his new company, Starcraft Boosters. Based on some very early space shuttle designs from the 1970's, the flyback boosters would help lift any payload into the upper atmosphere, separate, and then fly back to Earth and land like an airplane. The company simply offers to boost other people's rockets into orbit.

The next presenter, Gary Hudson, gave a status report of the Rotoon vehicle. Rotary is developing the RocketJet rotary aerospike engine, which consists of two concentric circles of 192 combustors. The entire base of the vehicle spins, which helps in both stabilization and in pumping the fuel. The Roton lands like a helicopter, using blades that pop out from the top of the vehicle. Tests are being conducted at Rotary's facility in the Mohave desert.

The final presenter for Friday was Mitchell Burnside Clapp, former Air Force Officer, now President of Pioneer Rocketplane. Similar in design as the Kelly Eclipse, the Pioneer Pathfinder differs in that it has two jet engines and is fueled in the air. The vehicle borrows technology from many existing systems. The primary launch site for the Pathfinder will be from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California.

At the evening reception, Rick Tumlinson announced the Cheap Access to Space Prize. The contest has a descriptive slogan: "2 kilograms, at 200 kilometers, by year 2000." The first prize is $250,000. Many of the amateur rocket enthusiasts agreed that the prize will be won quickly.

The Saturday morning session, chaired by Dennis Stone of NASA, discussed opening the International Space Station for Business. Tom Rogers, of the Space Transportation Association, gave a witty and anecdotal presentation about his experiences with the space station program.

The critical thing we should think about is to "think of the station as a market for the United States," where we can offer services to other businesses or countries. As for space tourists, Mr. Rogers said, "Think of tourists as a loss leader--real profits come from training, housing, etc., not the flight itself."

Also in the same session, Chuck Lauer of Pioneer Rocket Plane wore his
real estate broker's hat and compared space business with down-to-Earth business. He made unlikely comparisons between aerospace companies and more Earthly companies such as the Psychic Friends Network, IAMS Pet foods, and Victoria's Secret. One of Mr. Lauer's companies, Orbital Properties, proposes building a private space station and sell space on it. Build it one segment at time, he says, and slap on a Nike logo. "We need to get into banal, common markets, to get the public and other businesses interested in space...We need to expand our market base."

Finally, the last speaker, Mary Sanchez of NASA, spoke about the X-38 crew rescue vehicle.

During the open panel discussion, Tom Rogers asked the rhetorical question: "Why is it so hard to get big business involved in human space activity?"

The afternoon session was a follow-up to the Cheap Access To Space (CATS) symposium that was held last July in Washington, D.C. Moderated by Space Frontier Foundation Chairman Bob Werb, the forum consisted of Pete Conrad, Mike Kelly, Larry Hoeckler, Gary Hudson, and Henry Vanderbilt.

Henry made it very clear that despite his efforts in lobbying, "the government will never lead the way to cheap space access." He reported that Kistler Aerospace determined the Federal rules for launch and landing spacecraft were not going to change fast enough for their test schedule, so they are going to do their flights in Australia.

Mike Kelly has been working closely with AST, which handles aerospace regulations for the FAA. He is concerned about the lack of consensus among the new space companies, and the lack of representation at the AST committee meetings.

Larry Hoeckler, in agreeing with Mr. Kelly's assessment, suggested the
need to focus. He proposed the creation of a trade association for the small rocket companies to represent their views to the federal government.

Gary Hudson was impressed with the AST people, but not with their lawyers. They seemed to be stuck with a certain mind set that the young space companies were building manned and unmanned rockets. "We are building space ships," he said. He used the analogy of the experimental aircraft industry, which is run quite differently than Boeing or Airbus.

Pete Conrad said "The government contractors get paid for effort. Everyone else (in the commercial world) get paid for results."

The Questions and Answer period was quite enlightening:
What should the government do?
Buy launch services, not build them
What is the most damaging thing the government is doing?
Building their own launch vehicles; fragmented regulations
Suggestions for improvement?
Force the commercial users of military vehicles to pay for their development up front.
The needs of the commercial and military users of space are quite similar, and both groups should recognize this fact. The EELV program distorts the space industry No commercial investor is going to compete with a government-funded rocket program. The new launch vehicle companies should have a united front when they deal with the federal government.

The late afternoon session recently successful space businesses in operation, or soon to be in operation.

Chan Tysor represented Celestis, the first funeral service in space. He showed videos of the maiden flight. A canister with a few ounces of ashes was attached to a satellite, which was then launched by a Pegasus rocket. Some of the famous remains on board were from Gene Roddenberry and Timothy Leary.

William "Red" Whittaker from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute gave a summary of the robot project he has been working on. A recent achievement was the semi-autonomous test of the Nomad rover in Atacoma desert in Chile. A new camera called a spherical camera showed the desert in a full 360 degrees.

Dr. George Freeman of the Space Studies Institute presented SKIIT--Sub-Kilogram, Inquisitive, Industrious, Intelligent Telerobot. He proposed using groups small robots instead of just one to explore the planets and asteroids.

At the Awards Banquet, David Brody of the Sci-Fi Channel amused the
audience with his antics. Rick Tumlinson, founder of the Space Frontier Foundation, presented the annual awards.

"From Vision to Reality"Celestis
"Best Vision of the Future"IMAX Studios for "L5, City in Space"
"Service to the Frontier"David Anderman for running the CATS symposium and the Foundation conference.
"Prospace Award"Mike and Suzi Keene for handling logistics for this year's "March Storm".
"Founders Award" Tom Rogers for years of pushing for opening space to the public.

There was also a follow-up award to Foundation Imaging, which created the realistic special effects for Babylon 5 TV show. They should have been given an award last year with the rest of the B5 crew.

Sunday morning's sessions covered spaceports, and space tourism.

Ms. Andrea Seastrand presented the California Space & Technology Alliance. The group will help set state policy regarding space activity.

Richard Hora of Eclipse Spacelines discussed infrastructure for commercial space. His company, an offshoot of Kelly Space & Technology, is focused on dealing with operational aspects of a commercial space vehicle.

Dr. Patrick Collins is a visiting economist for NASDA and the Japanese
Rocket Society. Living in Japan since 1991, he has worked closely with the JRS in research in the economic and technical means for developing a space tourism industry. He stated that of the $25 billion spent in the world space programs, none of it was spent in opening space to the public. He compared it the heavily regulated Japanese cell phone industry. When the regulations were lifted in 1995, the industry grew exponentially. He believes the same can happen to the space industry. Japan's economy is in a recession, and its businesses are looking for another industry to develop. The JRS conducted a series of market surveys in Japan and North America. The survey results showed there was the potential of a $10 billion/year space tourism industry, with an average of 1 million passengers a year. He presented the " Kankoh-Maru" tourist spaceship. It is designed specifically for tourists. He also presented some designs for space hotels that have been developed. By his estimates, if a space tourism service began in 2006, it would grow 100,000 customers per year. There would be about 5 million customers by 2016.

Jay Penn of the Aerospace Corporation presented his data on developing a two stage to orbit space tourism vehicle. TSTO is not as efficient at SSTO, but it would be lighter. He compared several TSTO and SSTO designs, and showed how the weight and cost of a TSTO would be better. He focused on operability, reliability and cost.

During the afternoon session, there was discussion of long term plans for exploiting space.

Dr. Robert Zubrin, gave an intense description of his Mars Direct proposal.

Jim Benson of Space Dev described how he went from an idea one year ago to a $30 million dollar business on the stock market. His idea: sending a spacecraft to a near Earth asteroid and land a probe on it. He is offering space on the probe to universities and governments. He will also sell any data he finds.
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Sam Coniglio 20 November 1997
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