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Space Access Society

Space Access Update #100 2/8/03

Copyright 2003 by Space Access Society

Saturday, February 08, 2003

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Space Access Update #100 2/8/03 Copyright 2003 by Space Access Society

Contents this issue:

- Suborbital Institute's First DC Lobbying Project This Week

- Space Access '03 Conference Info & Rates (Unchanged!)

- Columbia Lost With All Hands - Where To Now? A First Look

Suborbital Institute's First DC Lobbying Project This Week

This is last second notice, but if you're interested in doing citizen lobbying support for the budding commercial suborbital spacelaunch industry, and you can spend some time in Washington DC over the next few days, the newly formed Suborbital Institute will be doing its first ever volunteer lobbying project starting with a training session Sunday evening February 9th then a Monday morning Congressional staffer breakfast.

We understand that this is being organized by Pat Bahn, Trent Telenko, and Ed Wright, and that the issues to be pushed include regulatory, insurance & liability, and new commercial spaceports. (We expect that the chief benefit of this initial effort will be consciousness- raising, since we suspect that most of official Washington still has no idea that a commercial suborbital launch industry is even possible.) If you're interested but can't make this session on such short notice, we're told it will likely be happening again in the coming months.

Email for more information.


Space Access '03 Conference Info & Rates (Unchanged!)

We forgot to mention in our last Update that registration rates for this year's Space Access'03 conference (April 24-26 in Scottsdale Arizona) will be unchanged from last year - $100 in advance, $120 at the door, student and day rates available at the door only. A hasty partial list of confirmed presentations includes Armadillo Aerospace, Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society, Pioneer Rocketplane, TGV Rockets, X-Rocket LLC, and XCOR - we expect once again to host over twenty presentations giving a snapshot of where the nascent low-cost launch industry is this spring of 2003, once again a balance between our favorite "usual suspects" with another year or two's progress to talk about and fresh faces with new and different approaches.

SA'03 happens Thursday evening April 24th through Saturday night April 26th, 2003, at the Old Town Hotel and Conference Center, in downtown Scottsdale Arizona. This is the same hotel we were at two years ago, the former Holiday Inn Old Town, with new owners and name but otherwise largely unchanged, in the heart of Scottsdale's restaurant and shopping district, a fifteen minute cab ride from the Phoenix airport. For SA'03 room reservations, call 800 695-6995 or 480 994- 9203 and ask for our "space access" rate of $74 a night. (Our rate is available for three days before and after the conference dates.) To advance register for the conference, mail a check for $100 to:

SA'03, 4855 E Warner Rd #24-150, Phoenix AZ 85044

Include your name and affiliation (if any) as you want them to appear on your badge. $10 off registration for SAS members (SAS membership is $30 a year), include a current email address for Updates if you're joining or renewing.


Columbia Lost With All Hands - Where To Now?

The words "tragedy" and "disaster" have been massively overused by the modern media, but they still have their moments of sharp accuracy. The loss of Columbia with all hands was a tragedy for the family and friends of the crew. Our utmost sympathy goes out to them all. For NASA, the spectacular destruction of the ship was a disaster. (Quite possibly, alas, another self-inflicted one.)

But for this nation, the abrupt loss of the first Shuttle we ever flew to space is an opportunity, albeit a sad and dearly paid for one. It is a chance to realize that we have been stalled in a bureaucratic dead end in space for coming on thirty years now, a chance to take a serious look at what we've been doing wrong and begin taking the painful steps needed to once again get rolling toward the future.

The loss of Columbia and the investigation getting underway won't tell us anything new about NASA. Possibly we will learn something new about reentry aerodynamics and tiled heat-shield systems, but NASA will emerge as what anyone paying attention already knows: A long- established and massively inflexible bureaucracy that does one thing more or less adequately: Put a half-dozen people into space a half- dozen times a year at a billion dollars a mission, in a manner known to all who paid attention ahead of time to be risky.

We want to emphasize that: Risky. The precise degree of risk depended on who you asked - NASA thought it about one chance in two hundred and fifty of vehicle loss per mission, while outsiders looked at the historical loss rate for expendable launchers and expected something more like one in a hundred to one in fifty. (Keep in mind that while Shuttle is partly reusable, the way each flight is put together makes it essentially equivalent to a particularly large and complex expendable launcher - each Shuttle stack is a mostly new/rebuilt machine being flight-tested for the first time.) But all involved understood that chances were we'd lose another Shuttle before we finished the Station project.

The first lesson we draw from this is: Resume flying soon. Take all practical precautions against recurrence of this latest problem - at minimum add basic on-orbit TPS (thermal protection system) inspection and emergency repair capability - but do not go into a years-long standdown. We have international obligations, we have national pride, we knew it was a risky business when we got into it. Shutting it down now would be admitting we're whupped - and we are no such thing. Don't take stupid risks, but some risk is unavoidable. Fly.

The deeper lesson we see here is something we've been thinking about for a long, long time, and that we're working on writing about in depth. For now, the short version:

Every time NASA has tried to develop new manned space transportation since Shuttle, they have failed. (Arguably, every time since Apollo.) Producing at least a backup (if not a replacement) for Shuttle obviously just jumped a bunch of places forward in the national priority queue. NASA's latest attempt at this is the Orbital Space Plane project, OSP.

From what we've seen so far, the same NASA tendencies that sank all previous such efforts are manifesting themselves again. Absent a serious independent investigation of why NASA has failed so often and so abysmally in the past, followed by the necessary radical reforms, we have no choice but to predict that OSP too will fail - at best just about as expensive and fragile to fly as Shuttle, and more likely never flying at all, either way at great expense in money and further lost time.

We'll have a great deal more to say on this in the coming weeks.


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"Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System" - Robert A. Heinlein