Space Access ’11: Charles Miller on Fuel Depots and Railroads

ULA fuel depot

Charles Miller
NASA

  • These remarks are his own only, they are not pre-approved and do not represent official NASA policy
  • “We are winning, although it may not be as fast as those in this room would like”
  • In the middle of a paradigm shift – very exciting time
  • Last year, read a book about the transcontinental railroad – Asa Whitney, brother of Eli – developed the idea of a private/public partnership to build a railroad across the country
  • When he proposed it in 1844, was laughed out of Congress by skeptics
  • Asa Whitney never got to build the railroad or see the golden spike driven into the ground in Utah, but he was right
  • Many people see the commercial space dream as similarly crazy — they’re wrong
  • In the midst of a paradigm shift
  • “The Apollo style model cannot be sustained.”
  • Railroads were built with public/private partnership – government granted land and low-interest loans – companies had to make investment (skin in the game)  — competition built in with two railroads being built
  • Railroads had a terrible effect on the Native Americans – we are not in that situation with space because Solar System is uninhabited
  • The future of space belongs to smart partnerships between business and government – they have worked in the past
  • Cold War forced a change in the business/government partnership model – Apollo was about proving Cold War superiority, not about space exploration
  • Has taken decades to rebalance the business/government partnership model in space exploration – effort begun under President Ronald Reagan in early 1980s
  • Three previous attempts to achieve cheap access to space involved centrally planned government picks the winner – FAIL
  • Industry could close the business case for a commercial RLV with the use of propellant depots, a sufficiently high flight rate, and NASA introducing a COTS-style effort
  • NASA currently looking for international partners for beyond Earth orbit exploration – been a struggle to figure out exactly who does what – having them contribute to propellant depots could help solve that problem
  • Most of the technology you need for propellant depots is in hand – probably want to do a tech demo on cryo storage and transfer and then move forward to building a depot
  • Depots should be commercial operated and NASA would be a customer