For better — and in at least one case definitely for worse — the people on this year’s list have made decisions that collectively changed the status quo in the space community and most likely the future direction of civil, military and commercial space programs.
It is a list that includes dictators, entrepreneurs, technocrats, a Democrat, a Republican and several visionaries.
Like all lists this one is arbitrary. It does not necessarily represent the most important or accomplished people in space, but people whose impact over the last year or so has been undeniable.
Matt O’Connell and David W. Thompson have navigated their respective companies through tough times and made them industry leaders. The U.S. Senate tag team of Barbara Mikulski and Kay Bailey Hutchison changed the debate over NASA’s budget in ways neither of them likely would have been able to do working separately. The launch of Bigelow Aerospace’s Genesis 1 prototype space habitat this year is as significant as the X Prize winning 2004 flight of SpaceShipOne.
Vladimir Putin’s restructuring of Russia’s space industry likely will impact civil, military and commercial space officials in ways that probably will not be clear for a few years. The direction of China’s space program under Sun Liyn, though, is very clear; they are going nowhere but up. And Kim Jong Il has single handedly made the case for ballistic missile defense.
As is the case every year, we hope you have as much fun arguing about the list as we did.
Founder and President, Bigelow Aerospace
For an amount of money roughly equivalent to the sum NASA pays for a single Delta 2 rocket, Robert Bigelow has built a 100-person aerospace company that just executed its first space mission.
The Las Vegas real estate mogul has spent just over $75 million on Bigelow Aerospace since founding the company in 1999 to build privately owned inflatable space habitats. Their Genesis 1, an inflatable spacecraft launched July 12 aboard a converted Russian ballistic missile, is just the first of many prototypes Bigelow intends to launch every six months as he builds up to deploying the company’s first fully habitable modules come the end of the decade.
Genesis 1 is about one-third the size of the space operational habitats the company eventually plans to deploy. Bigelow says he is prepared to invest $500 million to turn his dream of a commercial space station into reality.
The success of Genesis 1 has earned Bigelow plaudits far and wide. “This is as close as it gets to entrepreneurial orbital excellence,” Burt Rutan, chief executive officer and founder of SpaceShipOne builder Scaled Composites LLC, said after the launch of Genesis 1. “Pioneers like this are what it takes to get out of our three-decades-long period of no progress toward opening the frontier for the people.”
Roger Launius, the head space historian at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, called Genesis 1 an important step forward. “When matched with launch technologies that would make it accessible … it might help open Earth orbit for a much broader range of participants. I hope so, but there are still a lot of challenges yet to be overcome. I am both impressed and hopeful that it will signal the beginning of orbital space tourism,” Launius said.
Because Bigelow is the owner of the Budget Suites of America chain of extended-stay hotels, Bigelow Aerospace is often dubbed the “space hotel” company. But the normally publicity-shy Bigelow has said in recent months that he does not see catering to well-heeled thrill seekers as that big of a market. A bigger opportunity, as Bigelow sees it, lies in offering government space agencies, especially those without the financial wherewithal to build and launch their own spacecraft, a place to live and work in space.
Recognizing that private space stations are pretty worthless without affordable space transportation, Bigelow in 2004 endowed a $50 million space prize to be awarded to the first team to develop a five-person spacecraft able to fly t o a Bigelow facility twice before January 10, 2010.
Suffice it to say no one has emerged as a front- runner. Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Rocketplane Kistler, which just snagged a couple of hundred million dollars a piece from NASA to demonstrate crew and cargo launch systems for the international space station, are barred from competing for the Bigelow prize because they have accepted government funding. But Bigelow Aerospace could still buy services from either of those companies if and when their spacecraft become available. Bigelow also has said he would consider buying services from a commercial version of the Crew Exploration Vehicle that NASA expects to field by 2014.
U.S. Marine Corp Gen. James E. Cartwright
Commander, U.S. Strategic Command
“Hoss” Cartwright is fond of saying, “It’s not about Gen. Cartwright; It’s about Cpl. Cartwright.”
It is his way of trying to make people understand that warfare in the 21st century requires an entirely new approach to getting vital information into the hands of the people fighting those wars as fast as possible.
Whether it is data from satellites, airplanes, high-altitude balloons or the latest human intelligence, Cartwright is driven to get it into the hands of his warfighters in minutes if that is what it takes to give U.S. forces a critical edge on the battlefield.
As the man responsible for space operations; information warfare; missile defense; global command and control; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; global strike; and strategic deterrence, Cartwright has been a champion of new technologies that will help project U.S. power quickly, efficiently and with deadly force.
Even when it means completely revising a 200-year-old command structure, Cartwright is not afraid to try new things if he believes it will enhance the command’s ability to project U.S. power around the globe. Last year he initiated a Web blog that made it possible for soldiers in the field to communicate problems in real time to colleagues all over the world. Initially resisted by some officers and non-commissioned officers who feared allowing information to flow any other way than up and down the traditional chain of command, the blog has helped troops solve problems in minutes or hours compared to the days it might have taken in the past.
Cartwright also has been a strong advocate of research and development that will make operationally responsive space a reality, giving theater commanders the ability to launch small, relatively inexpensive satellites as soon as they need them.
He is a quick study, impatient and driven. In short, he gets it — and the Pentagon could use a few hundred more officers just like him.
Director, U.S. National Reconnaissance Office
In the world of classified national security space, most of what goes on never sees the light of day. But the developments that have managed to bubble to the surface in the last year are significant enough that somebody from that realm had to make the list this time around.
That person is Donald Kerr, who took the helm of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) just a little over a year ago. The selection was not an easy one for reasons including the classified nature of the NRO’s work, Kerr’s relatively short tenure there and the qualifications of the other two candidates: Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence; and John Stopher, majority staff director of the House Intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.
Excellent arguments can be made on behalf of both Stopher and Cambone, particularly given their roles in the NRO’s restructuring of Boeing Co.’s contract to build the new generation of spy satellites known as the Future Imagery Architecture. They were pressing the NRO to take steps to address the problem well before Kerr came over from the CIA.
But it was Kerr who did the deed, which entailed taking a major component of the program away from Boeing and giving the work to longtime incumbent contractor Lockheed Martin. Kerr has similarly restructured other troubled NRO programs, sources say.
Kerr also gets credit for putting renewed emphasis on ground systems and infrastructure at the spy satellite agency. In doing so, he has moved to address the longstanding disparity between the amount of data collected by NRO satellites and the agency’s ability to process and distribute that information. As Kerr said recently in a Director’s Note outlining the new focus, the NRO’s mission has not changed, but its “primary deliverable will now become value added information instead of increasing volumes of data.”
Observers also say Kerr has reached out to the unclassified community, despite the fact that he is in one key respect emblematic of the recent trend toward greater separation between black and white space worlds — he is the first NRO director since that position was separated in July 2005 from that of undersecretary of the Air Force. His recent agreement with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael T. Moseley to emplace a senior Air Force officer at the NRO, and a senior NRO official at Air Force Space Command, could go a long way toward strengthening the frayed ties between the two organizations.
Leader, Chairman of the National Defense Commission, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Influence — good or bad — is influence, and that being the case, it was impossible not to reserve a spot on our list for North Korea’s enigmatic bad-boy dictator, Kim Jong-Il (with an honorable mention to Iran’s pugnacious president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). The reason, of course, is North Korea’s recent missile tests.
The ever erratic Kim has made his impact felt on the space industry before. In 1998, North Korea inexplicably lobbed a missile over Japanese territory, prompting Tokyo to invest billions of yen in building a constellation of optical and radar satellites to keep tabs on its belligerent neighbor.
But as significant as that was, it cannot possibly top Kim’s July 4 fireworks spectacular: with the whole world watching and the United States warning the Stalinist state not to launch the long-range Taepodong-2 missile that had been sitting out in full view for several days, Pyongyang launched not only that missile but also several others of the medium-range variety.
The Taepodong-2, which might be capable of reaching some parts of the United States, was a dud. But for longtime missile defense advocates, Kim’s outburst literally served as live ammunition, made to order for their cause.
Even missile defense critics conceded that point. In a blog posted Aug. 9 on the Web site MinutemanMedia.org, Victoria Sampson, an analyst with the dovish think tank Center for Defense Information, said “the missile defense system needs a believable threat in order to win funding, and North Korea provides it.” The blog carried the headline: “North Korea Helps Us Waste Missile Money.”
Sampson said Congress was considering cuts to the Pentagon’s missile defense budget but reversed course after the tests. Whether or not the tests actually had an impact on the 2007 budget, it’s a fair bet that they will help keep money flowing to U.S. missile defense programs in the future, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in control in Washington. The same probably goes for South Korea and Japan.
Jean-Yves Le Gall
Chief Executive Officer, Arianespace
Launch failures, high insurance rates, satellite delivery delays. Name a problem that afflicted the launch industry in the 21st Century and rest assured Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall has experienced it.
Le Gall has weathered those storms and more. But with patience, some industrial restructuring in Europe and strong government backing, Le Gall has brought Arianespace back to stability from the string of problems that mushroomed with the December 2002 failure of the Ariane 5 ECA, the largest version of the company’s main launch vehicle.
Le Gall spent three years overseeing a redesign of the ECA, an effort that culminated with two successful launches in 2005. He also has overseen the creation of an alliance with competitors Sea Launch and Mitsubishi that allows the company to shift customers to other rockets, an arrangement already benefiting Arianespace and Sea Launch.
Now Le Gall is preparing to expand his offerings with the addition of the Vega small launch vehicle and a new launch pad in French Guiana for equatorial launches of Russian-built Soyuz rockets. And after several years of operating in the red and conducting layoffs — something far less common in Europe than it is in the United States — the company turned a small profit in 2005.
They’re back and Le Gall deserves the lion’s share of credit.
Barbara Mikulski and
Kay Bailey Hutchison
They may come from different political parties, but U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) emerged this past year as a formidable team looking out for NASA’s interests beyond the parochial needs of their two states, which both play host to major agency field centers.
When it comes to making a mark on NASA, few lawmakers in recent years have been as active as Sen. Mikulski , a veteran appropriator very protective of the Goddard Space Flight Center and the NASA programs run from there. But since assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee in 2005, Hutchison has wasted no time making her presence known. Working with outgoing House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), Hutchison in late 2006 made sure Congress passed its first NASA authorization act since 2000. The bill formally endorsed President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration and authorized higher spending levels for the U.S. space agency to make attaining the new goals possible.
When the White House in February requested $1 billion less for NASA than Congress had just authorized it to spend, Mikulski announced that she would lead the fight for getting NASA as much as $2 billion extra in this year’s spending bills to pay back the agency for the money it spent in the wake of the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident. Hutchison soon threw her support behind that effort and before the Senate broke for the August recess, the duo had succeeded in getting the so-called emergency supplemental added to the NASA spending bill and approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.
Mikulski and Hutchison’s funding gambit is still something of a long shot, but the pair has already succeeded by drawing widespread attention to NASA’s serious funding shortfall. Mikulski and Hutchison are not just preaching to the choir on this subject either. The two have met in recent months with U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney about NASA’s funding needs and have made considerable progress in getting the White House to reconsider its decision to leave NASA out of the American Competitiveness Initiative it unveiled this year to highlight the need for increase science and technology spending.
But congressional support can cut both ways, as NASA was reminded when Mikulski put the kibosh on a planned fixed-price Landsat procurement and Hutchison wielded her clout as subcommittee chair to set funding minimums for space station research. Hutchison also succeeded in her drive to make the international space station a national laboratory, a designation NASA is expected to embrace to see if other government funding can be brought to bare to help pay for research on the partly-built orbital outpost.
Together and separately they are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to NASA programs and priorities.
President and Chief Executive Officer, GeoEye
A year ago, there were three U.S. commercial providers of high-resolution satellite imagery in a market only big enough for two. The person most responsible for rationalizing the supplier base and stabilizing the industry is Matthew O’Connell.
As chief executive of the company formerly known as Orbimage, O’Connell came out on top of a three-way competition to buy Space Imaging, which despite its considerable assets had dropped in rank from industry leader to odd man out. The progeny of defense and intelligence contracting stalwarts Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, Space Imaging was the first company to successfully launch and operate a commercial high-resolution imaging satellite and had landed substantial business with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). But when the company failed to win one of two subsequent NGA contracts designed to underwrite a new generation of commercial imaging satellites, its acquisition or even outright demise had become a foregone conclusion.
With a bid of $58.5 million, Orbimage was declared the winner of the Space Imaging sweepstakes in September 2005. Orbimage beat out rival DigitalGlobe and another bidder for the prize, which included the Ikonos satellite, contracts with the NGA and overseas customers, and an international network of ground stations and distribution partners.
Had DigitalGlobe come out on top, this slot on our list might well have been occupied Herb Satterlee, that company’s chief executive at the time. Satterlee has since left DigitalGlobe.
Orbimage, renamed GeoEye after the acquisition closed earlier this year, now holds an estimated 60 percent of the U.S. market for high-resolution commercial satellite imagery. The combined company’s 2005 pro forma revenues were $160 million, O’Connell says.
Not bad, especially considering that O’Connell, an investment banking lawyer, was brought in to navigate Orbimage through bankruptcy proceedings and expected to return to Wall Street afterwards. He decided to stay on after the company pulled off a coup in 2004 by knocking off front runner Space Imaging for the NGA’s second and last NextView contract. It’s anybody’s guess as to how long he will stick around, and a company’s fortunes can always change, but it probably is safe to say that right now, GeoEye’s investors don’t want him going anywhere.
Like so much else in Russia, the space industry has come firmly under the thumb of Vladimir Putin. In the last year, Vlad the Impaler — as he was dubbed by The Economist in October 2003 following the arrest of a prominent Russian businessman and Putin critic — has set a course that promises to dramatically reshape the Soviet-era space industrial complex.
The first major bolt came last May when the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos), presumably acting on Putin’s orders or at least with his blessing, engineered the ouster of an industry icon, Rocket Space Corp. Energia President and General Designer Yuri Semenov. The crusty Soviet veteran, who ran Russia’s most prominent space industrial organization, led the development of the Mir space station and survived numerous changes of government well into the post-Communist era, did not go quietly, but in the end was finally unable to keep his job.
Next to go was Alexander Medvedev, director general of Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, which along with Energia is a flagship of Russia’s once-mighty and still highly capable space industry. He was fired by decree — signed by Putin — in November and replaced by a Roskosmos official.
Putin’s more recent moves were aimed not at individuals but at Russia’s sprawling space industrial complex itself. In June, he issued a decree directing that several industrial organizations, most notably the Scientific Production Association of Applied Mechanics, to merge into one company dedicated to satellite manufacturing. The new company, Information Satellite Systems, will focus initially on developing new generations of communications and navigation satellites.
A more sweeping consolidation effort is in the works. This plan, drafted by Roskosmos but not yet finalized and approved, calls for 112, or 60 percent, of Russia’s space industry enterprises to consolidate into six large holdings, and then into three or four. The plan also entails a new wave of capital investment designed to increase Russia’s share of the global marketplace for space-related goods and services and narrow the technology gap with the West.
The Russian cabinet endorsed the 10-year strategy in principle July 15, but Russian Premier Mikhail Fradkov wants some changes before it can be given final approval. If the plan is executed, Putin will be the man responsible — for better or worse — for what could be the most sweeping overhaul of Russia’s space industry since the days of the Soviet Union.
Administrator, China National Space Administration
As the man in charge of an increasingly ambitious space program, Sun Liyn has brought China considerable global prestige as only the third country to develop its own means of launching people into space, an exclusive fraternity they joined Oct. 15, 2003, when People’s Liberation Army Lt. Col. Yang Liwei flew solo on the Shenzhou 5 mission.
China topped that last October when Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng orbited the Earth in Shenzhou 6. To top that a three-person crew is now scheduled to go into space in 2008 and perform China’s first spacewalk.
But Sun has overseen much more than the emergence of a robust human spaceflight program. China’s plans to launch about 100 spacecraft in the next five to eight years including satellites for telecommunications, meteorology, remote sensing, technology demonstrations and recoverable capsules able to accommodate payloads weighing as much 3,600 kilograms. And last week Chinese officials announced plans to conduct a future robotic mission to Mars with Russia.
During a visit to NASA headquarters in December 2004, Sun made it clear to then-NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe that China is eager to cooperate with the United States in space, an entreaty he is sure to repeat when NASA Administrator Mike Griffin visits China next month.
While that kind of cooperation seems highly unlikely at the moment, few Americans living in the 1980s could imagine that the remnants of the Soviet Union would soon have a crucial role in the international space station.
With or without NASA, Sun’s agency seems destined to play a major role in space throughout the 21st century.
David W. Thompson
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
, Orbital Sciences Corp.
David W. Thompson bucked conventional industry wisdom that bigger is better when it comes to geostationary-orbiting telecommunications satellites, and in doing so has not only established an important profit center for his once-struggling company but also opened up a new option for satellite operators. This, in turn, has created demand and forced a response from rival satellite makers and launch services providers alike.
The market for communications satellites weighing less than 3,000 kilograms has been several years in the making. But thanks largely to Thompson’s belief in the product, and an assist from Ali Atia, who runs Orbital’s communications satellite division, the market has arrived.
Consider the following:
Sea Launch’s Land Launch venture, whose creation a few years ago to launch small- to medium-class communications satellites was greeted with skepticism, signed its first customer in July 2005. Land Launch now has five launch contracts under its belt. Meanwhile, work continues on a launch pad for Russia’s medium-lift Soyuz rocket at Europe’s equatorial launch facility in French Guiana.
European satellite manufacturer Astrium entered into a partnership arrangement with Antrix Corp., the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, to build and market satellites to address the market niche carved out by Orbital Sciences. In February, the joint venture booked its first order, with satellite operator Eutelsat. British startup Avanti Screenmedia Group has since ordered a satellite from the Astrium-Antrix team.
In December 2005, European Space Agency governments agreed to invest 100 million euros ($127 million) in the Small Geo Satellite initiative, an effort led by OHB-System of Germany to develop a small geostationary communications satellite platform.
Of the 22-23 commercial telecommunications satellites expected to be ordered this year, six to eight will be in the small category, Thompson predicted during a recent conference call with investment analysts. The business is driving growth at Orbital and is behind company plans to increase its work force by 15 percent in 2006, said J.R. Thompson, Orbital’s chief operating officer.
The company also now has a robust missile defense business and keeps bringing in new work like its role overseeing the final development, production and launch of Kistler Aerospace’s K-1 launch vehicle, one of two projects selected by NASA to share in the $500 million Commercial Orbital Transportation System program. Tampa, Fla., recently awarded the company a $9 million contract to provide the city with a computer aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location system.
On the bottom line, Thompson, one of the company’s founders, has overseen an expansion over the last five years that has increased Orbital’s annual revenue from $415.2 million in 2001 to $703.4 million in 2005. Over that same time period profits increased from $27.8 million to $124.6 million.