Blue Origin and other space companies urge Congress to boost FAA's funding

Blue Origin New Shepard liftoffBlue Origin’s New Shepard prototype spaceship blasts off in January 2016. (Blue Origin Photo)

When senators asked executives from Blue Origin and other commercial space ventures what they could do to help them at a Senate hearing today, they received an unusual reply: Give more money to the regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration.

“”It may be rare for companies to be pushing for more funding for their regulators, but we really think this is a case where it could be a good investment for the country,” Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides said during a Senate space subcommittee hearing.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, also known as AST, is responsible for regulating and encouraging development of private-sector launch companies such as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX.

AST’s budget for the current fiscal year is just a little less than $20 million, or just a little more than 0.1 percent of the FAA’s total budget of $15.9 billion.

As more commercial operators are entering the space business, AST is having to ramp up its regulatory machinery to handle the upswing. And the commercial operators say they’re feeling the bottleneck.

Rob Meyerson, the president of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin venture, urged Congress to increase AST’s budget “to allow the office to operate as a responsive and effective agency.”

He also said AST should tighten its focus on the launch industry, rather that expanding its mandate.

“We believe AST’s resources are insufficient to meet its existing operations, and do not believe AST should take on new authorities now, such as on-orbit authority, space situational awareness or space traffic management,” Meyerson said. “We want to work with AST on the impending licensing traffic jam before they start taking on orbital traffic jams.”

Meyerson also complained about “conflicting expectations” on the regulatory process from the U.S. Air Force and the FAA as Blue Origin prepares to license its New Glenn orbital rocket. He said the two sets of requirements for reusable rockets were “completely different.”

“This is duplicative and onerous, and will increase costs, delays and uncertainty,” Meyerson said.

Meyerson said AST should become the single point of regulatory contact for commercial launches, regardless of the location or type of launch.

Robert Bigelow, the billionaire founder of Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace, touted his company’s progress in building expandable space modules. The hotel magnate said he’s put more than $350 million into his space venture, and he aims to produce two flight-ready, 330-cubic-meter modules by 2020..

Revisiting the Outer Space Treaty

Bigelow focused his testimony on the potential for reviewing and revising the Outer Space Treaty, a 50-year-old pact that rules out assertions of sovereignty on celestial bodies beyond Earth. The treaty has become a point of debate now that commercial ventures – including Planetary Resources in Redmond, Wash. – have begun looking into space resource extraction.

In Bigelow’s view, the treaty doesn’t rule out setting up bases on the moon or other planets, even if they have a military purpose. “One base could be the size of Texas, because there is nothing in that treaty that says it couldn’t be,” he said.

Bigelow voiced concern that China could lay claim to lunar territory – a scenario he’s been talking about for years. “I don’t think it’s a joke,” he told the senators. “It’s not something to be cavalier about.”

Updating the treaty would provide an opportunity to add provisions that are more specific about establishing bases beyond Earth, and setting up non-interference zones around those bases. That would give a boost to commercial activity on the moon and other places in space, Bigelow said.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was sympathetic to the idea of revisiting the treaty. “It’s important that Congress evaluate how that treaty, enacted 50 years ago, will impact new and innovative activity within space as well as potential settlement throughout the galaxy,” he said.

No trade war with Mars

Andrew Rush, CEO of Made In Space, praised NASA’s role in supporting his company’s work on 3-D printers in space and an in-space method for manufacturing optical fiber more economically.

Rush said one way that Congress could help space entrepreneurs would be to draw up a plan for making the transition from the International Space Station, to dedicated commercial modules, to free-flying commercial space platforms.

He also said Congress should ensure that goods manufactured in space and brought down to Earth aren’t hit with import taxes or customs duties. That comment sparked a bit of political repartee involving Cruz and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

“I certainly hope we would not trigger reciprocal tariffs on Mars,” Cruz quipped.

“Or a border adjustment tax,” Nelson added.

Space Tourism: Russia, US Ready to Give You a Lift to Moon Orbit, ISS

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — In August, Solntsev said Energia was preparing a Moon expedition on board an upgraded Soyuz spacecraft, with eight space tourists interested in a trip. Renowned Canadian filmmaker James Cameron and a Japanese family were said to be among the first to express interest in the lunar orbit trip.

In April, Energia’s head said at least four were likely space tourists and were ready to pay for the trip. Energia has also been considering the resumption of the ISS tourist program. In February, Solntsev said a contract for nine tours could be signed before 2021.

“Crafting ISS commercial flight contracts is hard work which depends on many factors. We are discussing contract details with potential clients. The same applies to the Moon orbit trip… We have worked out various options with our partners for sending tourists to the ISS and to the Moon, but the decision is not made just by us, but jointly with the other space powers, as there are issues beyond technical and financial ones, such as legal concerns and so on,” Solntsev said.

Energia has been cooperating with the US-based Space Adventures space tourism company to secure potential clients wishing to fly around the moon. Space Adventures reportedly priced the Moon trip at $150 million, with the launch itself likely to take place by 2020.

The company has so far sent seven tourists to the ISS since 2001, with the tickets ranging between $25 and $35 million. Energia has also been in contact with other partners in the United States, according to Solntsev.

Amazon's Founder Wants to Deliver Supplies to the Moon

In Brief
  • Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, wants to use Blue Origins’ lunar lander “Blue Moon” to bring equipment to astronauts on the Moon.
  • As the competition between Blue Origin and SpaceX to get to the Moon continues, who knows what this effort will lead to.

Amazon on the Moon

In recent, “are you serious?” news, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, wants to create an ‘Amazon-like’ service to deliver equipment and supplies to the Moon. Bezos wants to combine his other company, aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight organization Blue Origin, with the delivery principles of Amazon to deliver a one-of-a-kind service.

*3* Amazon Founder Wants to Deliver to the Moon

Following the private sector rush to the Moon sparked by Elon Musk of SpaceX, Bezos thinks that their lunar lander “Blue Moon” will be able to start delivering supplies to the Moon by the mid 2020’s. Blue Moon is expected to carry up to 453.5 kg (10,000 lbs) of cargo per trip. Because of this capacity, the lander would be capable of carrying rovers and scientific equipment. And so, while this endeavor seems strange and a little bit silly, it could, in theory, be an inventive way to help further research.

Big Plans

Bezos has expressed his passion for not only increasing travel to the Moon but also the possibility of a permanent lunar settlement. In his own words, in an email to the Washington Post:

“It is time for America to return to the Moon — this time to stay. A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this…
Our liquid hydrogen expertise and experience with precision vertical landing offer the fastest path to a lunar lander mission. I’m excited about this and am ready to invest my own money alongside NASA to make it happen.”

It is impossible to say whether or not this plan will be successful but…who knows, astronauts could soon have rovers delivered to them with the click of a button. I wonder if they’ll get prime.

4 Things You Must Know About the Future of Space Travel

Think space travel is just for skilled astronauts and fictional characters from your favorite “Star Wars” films? Think again. You don’t have to be a professional scientist to fly into suborbital space, but you will have to pay a steep price.

[See: The 10 Top Places for Stargazing.]

With a variety of pioneering companies competing to launch humans into space, lunar exploration is taking off. Take SpaceX, the brainchild of Elon Musk, which plans to transport two passengers aboard its SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to cross over the moon and back in 2018. Or Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company, which aspires to launch six lucky tourists into space via a capsule, and that’s testing its New Shepard rocket ahead of plans for commercial suborbital journeys in 2018. For those more inclined to board a spaceship, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic aims to send tourists — including world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking — aboard the SpaceShipTwo (a six-passenger aircraft) into space this year.

If you’re not interested in gliding into deep or suborbital space — or you lack the funds to support a $250,000 journey aboard the Virgin Galactic — you can enjoy epic space events from Earth this year, including watching the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, stargazing in prized national parks or even checking out the northern lights.

Thanks to groundbreaking technological advancements, space tourism is no longer a pipe dream. Here are leading astro-tourism trends to watch in 2017 and beyond.

The 21st-Century Space Race Is Heating Up

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard are carving the path for space tourism by utilizing “reusable space vehicles,” explains Bill Gutman, vice president of aerospace operations at Spaceport America, a commercial space complex that aims to unlock the future of space exploration. While refurbishing rockets can be costly, reusing rockets, shuttle space engines and space vehicle parts can significantly reduce costs for space entrepreneurs and ultimately space tourists. “These vehicles have the potential to open the space experience to vastly more people than has been possible heretofore,” he says. Plus, reusable technology could trim the launch costs, advance technology breakthroughs for future exploration and enable a greater volume of launches, making space travel more accessible to tourists, he adds. “It is anticipated that Virgin Galactic will take more people to space in the first few years of operations than have experienced space from the beginning of the Space Age until present,” Gutman explains.

Orbital space travel will also be available to tourists in the near future, he adds. Gutman points to Bigelow Aerospace, which is working to build sophisticated space equipment like the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module for the International Space Station. “Bigelow Aerospace is well along with developing space habitat modules that will enable longer space tourism stays perhaps akin the ‘Orbital Hilton’ as seen in the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,'” he says.

Boeing, in partnership with NASA, also has developed technology that will enable astronauts to experience low-orbit earth journeys aboard the Crew Space Transportation-100 Starliner. While other companies are offering suborbital journeys, the Starliner aims to carry up to seven people per trip to low-earth orbit. Though Starliner’s technology is specifically designed for astronauts to advance space exploration, a future commercial airline is already being tested at Kennedy Space Center and is slated to launch in 2019, explains Kelly Kaplan, communications lead at Boeing Space Exploration.

Private commercial space tour company Space Adventures has partnered with Boeing to market seats on the Starliner, but it had not yet released information on what the experience will entail. “Our clients have traveled over 36 million miles and have spent a total of approximately three months in space. We also have plans to fly two clients around the far side of the moon on a modified Russian Soyuz spacecraft,” says Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures.

[See: 10 Best Trips for Adventure Junkies.]

Commercial Space Stations May Become a Reality in the Near Future

Getting materials and supplies transported from Earth to commercial space stations or settlements will have a high initial cost, but in the future, “it is likely that technologies will be developed to recycle materials, to grow food in space and to utilize lunar materials to build and to provide oxygen and water,” Gutman says, enabling costs to go down. To accomplish this, commercial space lines will be vital, he adds. But first, operators must “demonstrate to the FAA that risk to the uninvolved public does not exceed a threshold level,” he explains. In the future, the FAA may license space adventures, he says, noting that the process “will be complex because international law and treaties must be considered.”

Boeing and NASA are also teaming up to help astronauts expand research with a deep space gateway and transport system that will create an environment, similar to the International Space Station, complete with a docking system and technology to shield astronauts from the harsh conditions, enabling an ideal jumping-off point for journeys from the moon to Mars, Kaplan adds.

In the Near-Term, Space Travel Will Cost You

Launching into suborbital space is possible, but it won’t be cheap. While you can purchase tickets to board the Virgin Galactic, prices and ticket reservations for Blue Origin’s New Shepard have not yet been revealed. “As with all new enterprises, we would certainly expect that as more providers enter the market, the price for a space tourism experience will trend lower. The ultimate price point will be determined by supply and demand and by the success of providers in bringing cost-lowering technologies to the market,” Gutman adds.

If you’re interested in visiting the International Space Station with an outfitter like Space Adventures, you can book tickets now. Pricing is contingent on the mission, timing and vehicle, Shelley explains. The cost for a flight to the ISS is roughly $50 million; flights orbiting the moon are priced at $150 million per person, he explains.

You Can Embrace Your Inner Astronaut on Earth

If you don’t have the funds to support a moon mission, you can still enjoy otherworldly experiences on terra firma. “Space Adventures is able to arrange on-the-ground space-related experiences, such as tours to watch rocket launches from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, or the ability for clients to experience elements of the same training required for our private astronaut clients in Star City, Russia,” Shelley explains. Space Adventures also offers zero-gravity flights for roughly $5,000, Shelley adds.

[See: Where to See 2017’s Total Solar Eclipse.]

Meanwhile, Spaceport America offers programs such as interactive exhibits, a g-force simulator and launch videos for enthusiasts.

More From US News & World Report

DoS plans to launch 3 satellites in H1 of FY18 to boost transponder capacity

MUMBAI: After failing to meet the earlier deadline, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to launch GSAT 11, 17 and 19 in the first half of the financial year, the Department of Space (DoS) told the parliamentary committee on science, technology, environment and forests.

The launch of these three communication satellites will help the government in providing more Ku-band transponders to the growing direct-to-home (DTH) industry.

Minister of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) Venkaiah Naidu recently said that there was a committed demand from the DTH service providers for 68 more transponders. The total satellite transponder capacity used by the DTH operators presently stands at 104 transponders.

ISRO was planning to launch GSAT 11 and GSAT 17 during the fourth quarter of 2016 onboard Ariane-5 Launch Vehicle, while GSAT 19 was scheduled to be launched during first quarter of 2017 by GSLV-Mk III-D1 Launcher from SDSC SHAR, Sriharikota.

The DoS had planned to launch 14 communication satellites during the 12th Plan period for (a) increasing the transponder capacity; (b) introducing new-generation broadband VSAT systems; (c) introduction of Ka-band systems; (d) building high-power S-band satellite mobile communications; and (e) introducing new-generation geo-imaging satellite.

However, the committee noted that the department could manage to launch only seven communication satellites, namely GSAT-10, GSAT-14, GSAT-16, GSAT-7, GSAT-6, GSAT-15 and GSAT-18, during the 12th Plan period.

The committee stated in the report that it was imperative that the department accordingly strategise its action plan so as to keep pace with the increasing demand for the transponders and achieve the targets set for the purpose in a time frame manner.

The department also informed the committee that the allocation made in budget estimate 2017–18 would be adequate to meet the programmatic requirements planned for 2017–18.

It further stated that approvals were being sought for new series of satellites, namely GSAT-20, GSAT-22/23/24, for which enhanced budgetary requirements would be projected at the RE stage.

Work on other ongoing missions such as GSAT 6A and INSAT 3DS would be carried out and would be realised beyond 2017–18. The department was also making progress in other missions like INSAT-3 series, INSAT-4 series and INSAT/GSAT follow-on missions, it said.

Satellites launched so far

a) GSAT-10 communication satellite with 12 Ku-band, 12 C-band and 6 Lower Extended C-band transponders and a GAGAN (GPS and GEO augmented navigation) payload was successfully launched on board Ariane-V from Kourou, French Guiana, on 29 September 2012. GSAT-10 spacecraft has augmented the INSAT/GSAT capacity with 30 transponders.

b) Launch of GSAT-14 communication satellite on board GSLV-D5 with indigenous cryogenic stage on 5 January 2014. GSAT-14 communication satellite has added 14 communication transponders (6 ext-C-band, 6 Ku-band and 2 Ka-band) to INSAT/GSAT capacity.

c) GSAT-16 communication satellite, carrying 48 communication transponders (24 Ku-band, 12 C-band and 12 Ext. C-band), was successfully launched using procured launch services on 7 December 2014. GSAT-16 has augmented the INSAT/GSAT system capacity for DTH, TV broadcasting, tele-communication, rural communications and other societal benefits. Besides, GSAT-7 communication satellite with UHF-band and S-band were launched for special users.

d) GSAT-6 communication satellite with five spot beams in S-band and a national beam in C-band was successfully launched on board GSLV-D6. One of the advanced features of GSAT-6 satellite is its S-Band Unfurlable Antenna of 6 m diameter—the largest satellite antenna realised by ISRO. This antenna is utilised for five spot beams over the Indian mainland. The spot beams exploit the frequency reuse scheme to increase frequency spectrum utilisation efficiency.

e) GSAT-15 communication satellite, carrying 24 communication transponders in Ku-band, as well as a GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation (GAGAN) payload, was successfully launched on 11 November 2015.

f) GSAT-18 communication satellite, carrying 48 communication transponders and Ku-band beacon, was successfully launched on 6 October 2016.

Also Read:

Space May Be Next Frontier for Earth's Crude Oil Giants: Analyst

The Final Frontier for Energy Giants

The Middle East has an outsize impact on energy here on Earth. One analyst thinks some regional powerhouses may leverage that role into the development of natural resources in space.

Countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are developing space programs and investing in nascent private space commodity initiatives, said Tom James, a partner at energy consultant Navitas Resources. Doing so could give them a foothold in building extraterrestrial reserves of water — a substance likely to fuel travel within space — and other resources that could be used for in-space manufacturing.

“Water is the new oil of space,” James said in Singapore. “Middle East investment in space is growing as it works to shift from an oil-based to a knowledge-based economy.”

Prospecting satellites can be built for tens of millions of U.S. dollars each and an asteroid-harvesting spacecraft could cost $2.6 billion, in line with mining operations on Earth, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts including Noah Poponak said in an April 4 research note. Most resources would be processed and used in space although it may be economic to ship some commodities, such as platinum, back to Earth, according to James and Goldman.

“Space mining is still a long way from commercial viability, but it has the potential to further ease access to space,” Poponak wrote. “Water and platinum group metals that are abundant on asteroids are highly disruptive from a technological and economic standpoint.”
Water as Fuel

Navitas expects companies to launch satellites searching for rare gases and metals in asteroids within five years, with actual mining happening within eight. A single asteroid might contain 175 times more platinum than the Earth mines in a year, Goldman said, citing a project associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That much platinum could be worth $25 billion to $50 billion, although it would likely crater the market for the metal.

“You could go massively short on platinum and then show up at settlement with an asteroid, but you probably could only do that once,” James said in an interview after a presentation at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute. “I don’t think the counter-party would take that trade a second time.”

Platinum futures for July delivery fell 0.6 percent to $972.10 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Monday.

In the long term, most of the commodities mined in space will stay in space to power a low-orbit space economy built around satellites and space stations, James said. In that scenario, water accumulated in space would become valuable as it could be used for rocket fuel for interstellar voyages. The substance is too heavy and costly to transport from Earth.
Low-Orbit Economy

Water can be used as a propellant in space or split into hydrogen and oxygen, and then recombined and combusted. Deep Space Industries Inc., an asteroid mining company, has developed a thruster that heats water into a steam propellant, according to Goldman.

The U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia already have space programs, with the Saudis signing a pact with Russia in 2015 for cooperation on space exploration, according to a report from Arab News. Abu Dhabi is an investor in Richard Branson’s space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic. In addition to money, the Middle East also has geography on its side.

The closer a country is to the equator, the more surface velocity there is from spinning around the Earth’s axis, meaning space ships need to burn less fuel to exit the atmosphere. That benefits some Middle Eastern countries as launch sites, James said.

“The Middle East builds the tallest buildings, the biggest shopping complexes,” said James. “Certainly they’re having a big impact on the space and satellite industries as well.”
Source: Bloomberg

Space, the final frontier seen for earth's crude oil giants

[SINGAPORE] The Middle East has an outsize impact on energy here on Earth. One analyst thinks some regional powerhouses may leverage that role into the development of natural resources in space.

Countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are developing space programmes and investing in nascent private space commodity initiatives, said Tom James, a partner at energy consultant Navitas Resources. Doing so could give them a foothold in building extraterrestrial reserves of water – a substance likely to fuel travel within space – and other resources that could be used for in-space manufacturing.

“Water is the new oil of space,” Mr James said in Singapore.

“Middle East investment in space is growing as it works to shift from an oil-based to a knowledge-based economy.”

Prospecting satellites can be built for tens of millions of US dollars each and an asteroid-harvesting spacecraft could cost US$2.6 billion, in line with mining operations on Earth, Goldman Sachs Group Inc analysts including Noah Poponak said in an April 4 research note. Most resources would be processed and used in space although it may be economic to ship some commodities, such as platinum, back to Earth, according to Mr James and Goldman.

“Space mining is still a long way from commercial viability, but it has the potential to further ease access to space,” Mr Poponak wrote.

“Water and platinum group metals that are abundant on asteroids are highly disruptive from a technological and economic standpoint.”

Water as Fuel

Navitas expects companies to launch satellites searching for rare gases and metals in asteroids within five years, with actual mining happening within eight. A single asteroid might contain 175 times more platinum than the Earth mines in a year, Goldman said, citing a project associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That much platinum could be worth US$25 billion to US$50 billion, although it would likely crater the market for the metal.

“You could go massively short on platinum and then show up at settlement with an asteroid, but you probably could only do that once,” Mr James said.

“I don’t think the counter-party would take that trade a second time.”

In the long term, most of the commodities mined in space will stay in space to power a low-orbit space economy built around satellites and space stations, Mr James said. In that scenario, water accumulated in space would become valuable as it could be used for rocket fuel for interstellar voyages. The substance is too heavy and costly to transport from Earth.

Low-Orbit Economy

Water can be used as a propellant in space or split into hydrogen and oxygen, and then recombined and combusted. Deep Space Industries Inc, an asteroid mining company, has developed a thruster that heats water into a steam propellant, according to Goldman.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia already have space programmes, with the Saudis signing a pact with Russia in 2015 for cooperation on space exploration, according to a report from Arab News.  Abu Dhabi is an investor in Richard Branson’s space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic. In addition to money, the Middle East also has geography on its side.

The closer a country is to the equator, the more surface velocity there is from spinning around the Earth’s axis, meaning space ships need to burn less fuel to exit the atmosphere. That benefits some Middle Eastern countries as launch sites, Mr James said.

“The Middle East builds the tallest buildings, the biggest shopping complexes,” said Mr James. “Certainly they’re having a big impact on the space and satellite industries as well.”

BLOOMBERG