Space Access Update #95 08/27/00
                Copyright 2000 by Space Access Society
Labor Day weekend is almost upon us – as soon as it’s over, Congress comes back to DC for its last major session before the election.  It’s a good time to take a look around and see where things stand. 
– "Space Launch Initiative" Funding Decision Now Due In September,     SAS Still Opposed To "RLV Competition" Portion Of SLI Funding     – Senate HUD/VA Appropriation Markup Is Key
    – X-33 Tank Report Out; Who Pays Still Unresolved
    – X-34 Now Also Faces Major Additional Delays, Cost Increases
– Startup Launch Companies Roundup
– Space Access ’01 Conference Info (April 26-28 2000, Scottsdale AZ) ________________________________________________________________________
  Senate Markup Of "Space Launch Initiative" Funding Due In September
The Senate HUD/VA/Independent Agencies (NASA) Appropriators never did get around to "marking up" their funding bill before the August Congressional break.  You may recall that the House Appropriators, in what was at the time most likely a tactical budgetary move, have already zeroed the entire NASA "Space Launch Initiative" request.  The Senate’s markup will thus be critical for NASA’s chances of getting the money they want to start SLI – any cuts the Senate Appropriators make will very likely carry through to the final funding bill.
The Senate will be back in session starting Tuesday September 5th, and they could get to marking up the HUD/VA/IA Appropriation (which includes NASA funding) anytime between then and early October, when the Congress shuts down again till after the November election.
"SLI" actually covers a grab-bag of reusable launch projects, ongoing (including X-33, X-34, and X-37) and proposed (Alternative Access, NASA-Unique Systems, and the biggest single item at half the overall $290 million FY’01 SLI request, "RLV Competition & Risk Reduction.")
We recommended at the start of the summer and we continue to recommend that you ask your Senators to zero the $145 million new-start "RLV Competition And Risk Reduction" portion of NASA SLI, because we believe that as currently set up, that part of SLI would do more harm than good to the US space launch industry. 
(Members of the Senate Appropriations or Commerce committees are especially worth contacting, as are Representatives on the House HUD/VA Appropriations Subcommittee and the House Space Subcommittee.  Check for info on your Senators and Representative – letters, faxes, and phone calls are best – be polite, be concise, and be specific about what you want them to do, "zero the $145 million NASA budget line for RLV Competiton & Risk Reduction".)
Our position is that some of the fundamental assumptions behind NASA SLI are incorrect – in particular the assumption that NASA internal launch needs and US commercial launch needs can and should be shotgun- wedding "converged – and that SLI as-is is thus almost certain to produce no useful result for the $4.5 billion over five years NASA is requesting. 
In broad form, our proposed fix is to divide the program in two, firmly separating NASA support for their own agency launch needs from NASA support for commercial launch needs.  To date, however, NASA has shown no sign of modifying their position on mandating "convergence".
(See our Space Access Update #94 for details, at
  Recent Developments
What we’ve seen over the summer has only tended to confirm our
negative view of SLI’s prospects.
  NRA 8-27 SLI Study Contracts
In their initial SLI study contract awards, NASA rejected several bidders who wanted to allow for significantly higher future launch traffic than NASA’s preferred model, NASA launches plus a slice of existing commercial traffic.  Limiting SLI studies from the start to a conservative traffic model means automatic exclusion (as "not cost- effective") of any system element providing for the possibility of radically lower costs at high launch rates.  This in turn means that no product of SLI will be capable of taking launch costs down past the current "flat" diminishing-revenue region of the demand curve, down to where reduced costs finally begin radically expanding market size and revenues.  Such an approach to SLI makes it very unlikely genuine commercial financing will be available to build the resulting designs.
The long-overdue X-33 tank failure report finally did come out after various news media started noticing its absence.  The gist of the report is that multiple things were known to be wrong with the tanks, but nobody talked to anybody else about any of the problems, but it’s not actually anybody’s fault. 
The X-33 project is now over a year late, nobody thinks it could possibly fly in less than two additional years, and NASA and Lockheed- Martin still haven’t agreed on who will pay the additional hundreds of millions needed.  There’s considerable Congressional pressure to hold Lockheed-Martin’s feet to the fire – the original cooperative
agreement limits NASA’s direct contribution to $941 million, with Lockheed-Martin’s sole choice being to pay for overruns or bail out of the project and shut it down.  Elements within NASA are talking about finding ways to slip Lockheed-Martin more money via early payment of performance bonuses (despite non-performance) or via new auxiliary contracts for "upgrades" to the baseline X-33. 
Our position is that the X-33 projects’s ongoing display of bad management has become egregious enough that Congress should refuse to fund any such additional NASA payments for the project.  If as seems quite possible Congress agrees with us, Lockheed-Martin will have to choose between digging up the cash to complete the project, or bailing out and shutting X-33 down.  Either way, we’d be very surprised to see any decisive action until after the election. 
Meanwhile, NASA wants three times what they’ve spent on Reusable Launch Vehicle work over the last five years (with no flight tests in sight yet) for their new SLI over the next five years.  Given the X-33 record thus far plus NASA’s repeated failure to resolve its problems, we are not filled with confidence that this SLI money would be well spent, absent radical changes in NASA’s SLI approach.
In an additional blow to confidence in NASA’s abilities to manage SLI, X-34 too is now looking at up to two years additional delay (X-34 is also well over a year late already) plus major cost increases.  Three factors are at work here:
  * In the wake of the recent spectacular Mars mission failures, NASA has gone back over its programs looking for ways to prevent more high- visibility setbacks.  In general, this involves imposing an additional layer of NASA management, which costs; hence the current fuss over rising expenses reducing the number of NASA science missions planned.  In X-34’s case, it also involves a specific change of approach: Till now, the program was prepared to risk losing one of the three X-34 airframes during flight test.  This has now been defined as
unacceptable.  The changes this implies are not ch
    X-34 avionics were formerly single-string and are now being redesigned for redundancy, not generally considered cost-effective in an experimental testbed.  X-34 flight was originally going to be autonomous launch-and-forget and will likely now be human-supervised, probably a good idea given the poor track record of experimental fully-autonomous vehicles, but also costing additional time and money.
  * The NASA-developed "Fastrac" engine that NASA insists on for X-34 is having problems.  (NASA has insisted – we understand that the X-34 contractor, Orbital Sciences, wanted $20 million for an existing Russian engine a while back, but NASA said it cost too much.  NASA however soon managed to find $25 million more for the already troubled Fastrac development effort.)  First powered flight of the X-34 was scheduled for last year, yet no flight-weight version of the Fastrac engine has yet been tested.  We’ve heard of problems with the low-cost propellant pump, a central element of the engine.  NASA is now
admitting that a few months delay and some additional cost is likely. 
  * Some of the blame does go to OSC; they’ve been having teething troubles with various parts of the X-34.  The propellant tank design was a problem for a while (since solved we’re told) and the first X-34 airframe had significant electrical problems the first time it was interfaced with the carrier aircraft; we understand it has since gone to NASA Dryden for rewiring and ground-tow testing.
We think that completing X-33 should be left up to Lockheed-Martin – if they believe it’s truly a major step toward a useful commercial RLV, they should be able to find the money and talent to finish it.
X-34 should also be completed and flown, but NASA should immediately fund OSC in aquiring the Russian engine they wanted as insurance against further Fastrac problems, and NASA should back off the absurd and unaffordable "no conspicuous failure is acceptable" position.  This is an experimental vehicle project with three copies of the vehicle; a reasonable level of risk of damage to or loss of one of the vehicles is a good tradeoff for lower cost and quicker results.
SLI, as we’ve been saying all year, should be split into NASA-specific and US commercial support projects, with a solid firewall between the commercial support project and influence by the major NASA launch consumer centers, lest they once again bend all NASA efforts toward solving their Shuttle-replacement problem at expense of practical engineering support for the US launch industry.
                            Startup Roundup
On a somewhat happier note, we’re now reasonably sure that all the various low-cost launch startups we follow will survive the year in some form or another – a better outlook than we saw a couple months ago.  The general trend, mind, is toward providing specialty
engineering and away from immediate low-cost launcher projects – the current launch market outlook makes it extremely difficult for new launcher business plans to "close".  But market projections and investment outlooks are cyclical.  The current post-Iridium low will eventually pass, and it’s important that there be competent people willing to take chances on radically cheaper launch still able to do so when the opportunities come around again.  Hang in there, guys.
In no particular order…
Kistler bid on a preliminary study contract for NASA’s Alternative Access (to Station) program, and was one of four winners.  The total amount of the contract is only a couple hundred thousand – their main motive is formally establishing that their under-development "K-1" two-stage reusable vehicle can do Station resupply. 
Rotary Rocket is still alive and still answering their phones.  As we understand it, they currently retain a handful of administrative and marketing staff.  No Roton work is going on; our impression is that Rotary’s main current focus is securing funding to resume development.  We’d be surprised to see that happen before the cheap launch
investment climate climbs out of its current trough; we wish them the patience to outwait the downturn, or skill and luck to beat it.
Gary Hudson and Bevin McKinney meanwhile have revived their old rocket engineering company, HMX, and have won a study contract from NASA Alternative Access.  Gary Hudson has left Rotary, but he has not left the rocket business, a good thing in our opinion.  Gary tells us he’s decided he enjoys engineering a lot more than fundraising, that his new approach is less panning for gold, more selling bluejeans to the miners, and that HMX has a couple irons in the fire besides NASA AA.
Pioneer Rocketplane bid on both NASA SLI (NRA 8-27) and on Alternative Access, but didn’t win either, which we think shows considerable lack of vision on NASA’s part.  Pioneer did recently get a $200K grant from the state of California (Kelly and JP Aerospace also got grants from this program.)
Universal Space Lines bid on NASA SLI and lost, then didn’t bid on AA.  Much of the USL group of companies’ current efforts are focussed on their Universal Space Network spacecraft tracking and communications operation, which has, unlike the low-cost launch business lately, attracted substantial commercial investment.  USL’s Jess Sponable and Bill Gaubatz meanwhile have a compact low-cost DC-X followon proposal called MSX they’ve been shopping around – we wish them success in finding a suitable sponsor for MSX, it looks like a good project.
Space Access LLC won a small NASA SLI study contract.  They’ve been making a bit of a stir trying to play off central Florida versus the Texas gulf coast in an effort to generate Congressional support for loan guarantees for their vehicle development.  They seem to have had some luck with the local delegations, but so far Congress as a whole isn’t going for it.
Kelly Space & Technology’s recent efforts at working with NASA in the STAS studies seem to have paid off; they’ve won a $3 million SLI study contract, second only to Boeing and Lockheed-Martin’s $4.5 million awards, and twice the size of Orbital Sciences’ $1.5 million contract. Mind, we are not wildly optimistic that this will ever lead to a significant hardware contract for Kelly under SLI, at least not as SLI is currently constituted.  Nevertheless, one of the startups is getting "a cup of coffee in the majors" – congratulations!
Andrews Space & Technology has won study contracts in the two hundred thousand dollar range on both SLI and AA.
Microcosm, best known for their work on low-cost industrial-production modular expendable rockets, was the fourth NASA Alternative Access winner.  The total divided up among the four was a bit over nine hundred thousand dollars.  These AA contracts were done as a formal small-business setaside, but NASA has also made awards to existing major contractors to study the same mission, short leadtime delivery of small payloads to Station.  We strongly advocate that NASA maintain small business involvement through the actual development and payload delivery contract phases.
XCOR Aerospace, live-fire demonstrating their prototype small rocket motor in the conference hall (with all legal bases touched) at last spring’s Space Access ’00 conference, generated significant investor interest.  XCOR has since secured a round of financing and is hard at work on product development, after a well-received visit to the Oshkosh experimental aircraft fly-in this summer.
  Space Access ’01 Conference Info
And speaking of our annual Space Access conference, Space Access ’01 will again be at the Holiday Inn Old Town in the heart of downtown Scottsdale Arizona twenty minutes from the Phoenix airport, intro sessions Thursday evening April 26th 2001, main sessions all day and evening Friday the 27th and Saturday the 28th, 800 695-6995 for room reservations, mention "space access" for our $72 rate.  Conference advance registration is $80 postmarked through Saturday September 9th, $100 thereafter, $120 at the door, mail checks (sorry, no credit cards) along with your name, address, and the organization name (if any) you want on your conference badge, to: Space Access Society, 4855 E Warner Rd #24-150, Phoenix AZ 85044.
Space Access Society’s sole purpose is to promote radical reductions in the cost of reaching space.  You may redistribute this Update in any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety. ________________________________________________________________________
Space Access Society
"Reach low orbit and you’re halfway to anywhere in the Solar System"                                         – Robert A. Heinlein