2010: An Exceptionally Busy Year in Commercial Space

Dragon being recovered in the Pacific. (Credit: SpaceX)

A brief look at developments in commercial space in 2010 with a look ahead, primarily focused on developments in the United States related to the so-called “New Space” sector.



  • Two Falcon 9 launches, two successes
  • One Dragon floating down gently in the Pacific
  • Submitted CCDEV 2 proposal

Coming Up in 2011

  • Test flights to ISS
  • Possible CCDEV contract award


ISRO Forms Committees to Investigate GSLV Failure, Future

GSLV F06 Failure — Preliminary Findings and Further Steps
ISRO Press Release — December 31, 2010

1. The performance of the GSLV-F06 flight of December 25, 2010 (with GSAT-5P Satellite onboard) was normal up to 47.5 seconds from lift-off. The events leading to the failure got initiated at 47.8 seconds after lift-off. Soon, the vehicle started developing larger errors in its orientation leading to build-up of higher angle of attack and higher structural loads and consequently vehicle broke up at 53.8 seconds from lift-off (as seen visually as well as from the Radars).

As per the Range safety norms, a destruct command was issued from the ground at 64 seconds after lift-off. The flight was hence terminated in the regime of the First Stage itself.


NASA SBIR Program Funds Mars Sample Return Technologies

NASA faces a number of technical challenges to overcome for is Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. One can get a good sense of what those obstacles are by looking at the Small Business Innovative Research projects that the agency selected to fund earlier this month.

Below are summaries of the projects that were selected. They are broken down into key phases of the mission: aerocapture, entry, descent and landing; sample collection and surface operations; planetary ascent; and orbital rendezvous with the return vehicle.


Arianespace Finishes the Year 6-for-6

An Ariane 5 rocket soars into orbit on Dec. 29, 2010. (Credits: ESA / CNES / Arianespace / Photo Optique vidéo du CSG)


This evening, an Ariane 5 launcher lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport on a journey to place two telecommunications satellites, Hispasat-1E and Koreasat-6, into their planned transfer orbits. Flight V199 was the sixth Ariane 5 launch of 2010 and the last of the year.


Editorial: Keep Rick Homas as NM Spaceport Authority Director

Terminal Hangar Facility at Spaceport America.

The Las Cruces Sun-News says that incoming New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez can keep Spaceport America on track by leaving its leader in place:

Spaceport Authority Director Rick Homans has overseen the steady progress at the facility this past year. With the spaceport on schedule to open in 2011, this would be a poor time to change leadership. Homans, who served as Richardson’s first secretary for Economic Development, has been involved in the spaceport from the very beginning. He was instrumental in lobbying the Legislature for the funding needed to build the spaceport, and in securing Virgin Galactic as the anchor tenant. Homans served as the first director of the Spaceport Authority from 2005 to 2007, then was brought back last year after the resignation of Steve Landeene. This is a critical time for the spaceport, which dedicated its 10,000-foot runway earlier this year in a ceremony attended by Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson. Construction of the 110,152 square-foot terminal-hangar is ahead of schedule and expected to be substantially finished by March 2011. It is expected that the facility will open next year, and Virgin Galactic will begin taking passengers into space in either 2011 or 2012.

Read the full editorial.

Medvedev Fires Roscosmos, Energia Officials Over Proton Failure

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired RSC Energia’s vice president Vyacheslav Filin and Roskosmos Deputy Head Victor Remishevsky over the Dec. 5 failure of a Proton rocket, which sent three expensive GLONASS navigation satellites to the bottom of the Pacific. The Russian leader also reprimanded Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov.

The failure resulted from the fourth stage transfer module being overloaded with fuel, causing the first three stages to under perform. The failure was deeply embarrassing to the Russian government because the three satellites would have completed the 24-satellite GLONASS constellation, allowing it to provide full global coverage for the first time. GLONASS is the Russian equivalent of the American Global Positioning System (GPS).

The Russian government has been eager to recover its Soviet-era space prowess and to prove that it can equal the technological achievements of the United States and other Western powers. Officials are making a major push to install receivers on buses, cars and other vehicles both domestically and aboard. The government is working with India and a number of countries that formed the former Soviet Union to install receivers there.


Chart: California’s Space Industry’s Large Impact on State, Nation and World

The California Space Authority has released a fact sheet on the impact of the state’s space sector, which accounts for $37.7 billion in direct revenue and more than over 450,000 jobs overall. Key excerpts below:

Economic Impact of California Space Enterprise

  • Totals $93 Billion  (1)
  • Supports 450,000 Jobs
  • Provides $23 Billion in Wages
  • Represents 46% of the $81.9 Billion U.S. Space Market
  • Constitutes a Direct Impact of $38 Billion Representing 22% of the $174 Billion Global Space Market

(1) California Space Enterprise represents $93B of total economic activity, including induced demand.

(2) Satellite services includes direct-to-home television, mobile satellite phone, mobile satellite data, VSAT, direct internet, direct satellite radio, remote sensing (raw imagery and first order processing only), and transponder agreements.

(3) Ground equipment includes gateways, control stations, mobile terminals, VSATs, DBS dishes, handheld satellite phones, and satellite radio equipment.

Economic analysis provided by A.T. Kearney, based on 2009 data

NASA’s Forecast: Foggy With a 100 Percent Chance of Uncertainty

The last major engagement of the American Revolution ended on Oct. 19, 1781 at Yorktown, Virginia. Although the surrender of Lord Cornwallis’ besieged troops all but ended the fighting, it would take negotiators nearly two years to hammer out the terms of the divorce in Paris. Negotiations were complicated by a vast array of issues both large and small, among them fishing rights off the Grand Banks and beaver pelts quotas in the West. Upon such things the future is written.

Back in Philadelphia, a weak and divided Congress governed a country not-yet born and made plans for an uncertain future during the long twilight of the colonial era. With British troops still occupying New York, Gen. George Washington contended with an unpaid Continental Army with too much time on its hands. In March 1783, the Commander-in-Chief barely managed to talk his officers out of staging a coup against a bankrupt Congress that had no money to pay them. When word of a final peace arrived in November, he was outraged when the august body adjourned without making final arrangement to pay Washington’s men.

More than two centuries later, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden finds himself in a not dissimilar position. In his case, the stakes are significantly lower and the time frame much compressed. But, exasperating it is just the same.


SWF Sees Orbital Debris, Killer Asteroids as Key Issues for 2011


There are outstanding issues in the coming year that deserve increased attention in terms of global outer space activities – from tackling the growing problem of orbital space debris, enhancing Earth security via satellite data, protecting our planet from Near Earth Objects, and assuring a sustainable space environment for all nations to improve their well-being.

“Space isn’t the ‘new frontier’ any more. It’s an integral part of our daily existence,” said Cynda Collins Arsenault, President and co-founder of Secure World Foundation (SWF).


Astronauts4Hire is Hiring


Have you ever wanted to be an astronaut? Do you have specialized scientific, engineering, or operational experience relevant to human spaceflight? Now is your chance to make your dreams come true! Astronauts4Hire is seeking candidates to expand its cadre of prospective commercial astronauts. Applications are due February 5, 2011 for full consideration in this selection cycle.

“Astronauts4Hire continues to grow along with the emerging private spaceflight sector,” says its President Brian Shiro. “We need more motivated, highly competent flight members to help build the organization and train for payload operation on upcoming missions.”

Flight members are the “astronauts for hire” who are eligible to receive training support from the organization and be hired for flight jobs, including parabolic trajectory microgravity research flights. Astronauts4Hire’s training program is designed to develop flight candidates for both suborbital flights, such as those that will soon be provided by Virgin Galactic and XCOR, and for orbital flights such as those envisioned by companies like SpaceX.

Individuals interested in becoming flight members can submit their application via the Astronauts4Hire website, http://www.Astronauts4Hire.org/p/join.html, before February 5, 2011. Finalists will be asked to provide an FAA Class 3 flight physical and verification of their academic credentials within 90 days of selection. Selections will be announced at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Orlando, Florida by March 2, 2011.

Video: AIA Year-End Review and 2011 Aerospace Forecast

Aerospace Industries Association President and CEO Marion C. Blakey reviews the past year in America aerospace and looks ahead to 2011 in an address to about 400 people on Dec. 15. You can download her address and AIA’s full report here.

Video: Russian Proton Returns to Flight, Sends Comsat Into Orbit

A Russian Proton rocket lifted off from Baikonur on Sunday, successfully lofting a European communications satellite into orbit. The Eutelsat-owned satellite is configured with over 80 spot beams that will provide broadband services across Europe and a small area of the Middle East.

The previous Proton launch on Dec. 5 failed, sending three Russian navigational satellites into the Pacific Ocean. The failure was traced to a fourth stage that was loaded with too much fuel, causing the first three stages to under perform.

Did Excessive Weight Doom ISRO’s GSLV Rocket?

Some interesting speculation on what caused the Christmas Day failure of India’s GSLV rocket:

Instability introduced by excessive payload weight was most likely responsible for the failure of an Indian rocket’s launch on Christmas day, an expert in the field and former scientist of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) says.


New Molecule Could Lead to More Efficient Rocket Fuel


Trinitramid – that’s the name of the new molecule that may be a component in future rocket fuel. This fuel could be 20-30 percent more efficient in comparison with the best rocket fuels we have today. The discovery was made at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden.

“A rule of thumb is that for every ten-percent increase in efficiency for rocket fuel, the payload of the rocket can double. What’s more, the molecule consists only of nitrogen and oxygen, which would make the rocket fuel environmentally friendly. This is more than can be said of today’s solid rocket fuels, which entail the emission of the equivalent of 550 tons of concentrated hydrochloric acid for each launch of the space shuttle,” says Tore Brinck, professor of physical chemistry at KTH.


The Space Show Schedule

This week on The Space Show….

Monday, December 27 , 2010, 2-3:30 PM PST. We welcome back David Hook to update us on airport and generation aviation security requirements.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010, 7-8:30 PM PST: We welcome back Dr. Clark Lindsey for a NewSpace review for 2010 Dr. Lindsey publishes Hobby Space, RLV News, and Space Transport News. His reporting is a major source of important news and development information for the entire space community.

Friday, December 31, 2010, 9:30-11 AM PST: We welcome back Tom Olson for our traditional space year in review program with a look forward to 2011 and beyond.

Sunday, January 1, 2011, 12-1:30 PM PST. We welcome Greg Baiden, CEO of Penguin Automated Systems for an examination of the realities of mining and the application of mining skills and technology to what would be needed in space. Mr. Baiden was a featured speaker at the recent Space Studies Institute Conference held at NASA Ames.