Space Development Alliance Lays Out Ambitious Agenda

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The new Alliance for Space Development (ASD) has set out an ambitious agenda for itself, with a set of objectives that include radically reducing the cost of getting to orbit and expanding NASA’s purpose to support the settlement of humanity off the Earth.

ASD, which is a coalition of 11 space organizations, revealed its plans at a press conference on Capitol Hill last week. The group is led by its two executive founding members, the National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation.

On a policy level, ASD wants to incorporate space development and settlement into the NASA Space Act. The alliance this would give the U.S. space agency a clear long-term goal around which to organize its programs.

Changing the NASA Space Act would require Congressional action. Rep. Dana Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who attended the press conference, said he would introduce a measure to make the change.

The alliance also wants to initiate a grand challenge for low-cost access to space. This effort would be accompanied by the Low-Cost Access to Space Prize, which would award up to $3.5 billion to companies that can demonstrate fully-reusable crewed orbital spacecraft.

The measure would establish a goal for private companies to place a 1 metric ton payload with at least two crew members into a circular orbit of 400 km at 51.6 degrees inclination, according to a draft of the measure.

A $1 billion tax-exempt prize would be paid to the first entrant to repeat the flight using the same vehicle within one week of returning to Earth. A $750 million tax exempt prize would be awarded to the second entrant to achieve that milestone.

A second set of $1 billion and $750 million prizes would be awarded to the first two entrants that can launch the same vehicles into orbit 10 times within 10 weeks.

The alliance also will work to extend the learning period for commercial suborbital vehicles. The provision, which limits the ability of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to write safety regulations for passengers and crew, expires on Sept. 30. Industry wants the learning period extended; FAA officials would prefer for it to lapse.

Another ASD goal is to change commercial suborbital vehicle regulations to allow companies to simultaneously hold experimental permits and launch licenses. Under current law, the permit under which a company developed a vehicle lapses upon the granting of a launch license that allows for the ship to carry passengers.

Industry wants the provision changed, saying it prohibits them from testing repairs and making changes to their vehicles once commercial operations begin. Legislati0n to address the issued died in the last Congress.

ASD also will work to support the Obama Administration’s $1.24 billion budget request for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Congress has consistently reduced the administration’s requests for this program in previous years.

The alliance said it would support efforts to increase commercial utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) while also working to support a transition to private orbital facilities when ISS is retired in the 2020’s.