Space Dev Alliance Proposes National Cheap Access to Space Prize


The newly established Alliance for Space Development (ASD) wants to introduce a bill in Congress offering $3.5 billion in prize money for companies capable of flying fully reusable human spacecraft into orbit.

The Cheap Access to Space (CATS) Act 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 proposed measure would allow for the changing out of line replaceable units (LRUs) between flights if such actions are part of the vehicle’s design. A thermal protection system could qualify as a LRU; an engine would not.

The measure would place the prize competition under the control of the Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commercialization.

The measure was announced during an ASD press conference last week that was attended by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.).

ASD is a group founded by the Space Frontier Foundation and the National Space Society. It also includes Lifeboat Foundation, Mars Foundation, Mars Society, Space Development Steering Alliance, Space Tourism Society, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, Students on Capitol Hill, Tea Party in Space and Texas Space Alliance.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    This bill is unnecessary. What is needed is removal of the obstacles preventing the cost of space launch from coming down such as sole source government contracts, excessive oversight and detailed FAR contract requirements. Oh and also the payoffs to every pollie’s favourite NASA centre and/or contractor.

  • Geobram

    I see the twice in a week happening if a company (SpaceX looks the main candidate) went for it. But doing it 10 times in 10 weeks sounds like something that is still a long way in the future, or costs loads of money (more than the 1B presented). The advantages would be nice, but looking at the Google X price contests in space so far, Im not sure companies are actually doing it for the money or for the progress.

  • Enrique Moreno

    Great. This would be a supersized Xprice.

  • Jim R

    I hope they would drop the 2 for 2 weeks prize and only keep the 10 for 10 weeks prize (double the prize money if necessary). I think X-Prize showed us twice is just not enough to certify the vehicle is truly safe and operational, it’s possible some hacked together vehicle can fly twice to win the prize but fail to realize the cost reductions we’re looking for. On the other hand, if you have an operational fully reusable vehicle, then launching 10 times shouldn’t cost a lot more than launch 2 times, since most of the cost would be fuel and some checkup/maintenance. If the cost difference between 2 times and 10 times exceeds a significant portion of $1 billion, something is wrong with the reusability design.

  • Douglas Messier

    Not a big fan of prizes these days. The Ansari X Prize led to a vehicle with a poor engine that proved to be a weak foundation upon which to build a commercial space effort. I think that was probably true even if they hadn’t gone to a much larger vehicle. The hybrid ran very rough, and nitrous oxide is a tricky oxidizer. It also led to a shortened flight test program designed to meet a deadline, not properly wring out the ship.

    We could end up with another vehicle that barely meets the bare minimum requirement for $1 billion that has no chance of flying 10 times in 10 weeks. It also seems the 10 times requirement is rather restrictive (why not five times in 10 weeks). There also might be the tendency to try to win that prize with the prototype instead of spending the money to fully testing it out and building a production model capable of flying 10 times in 10 weeks in a more safe manner.

    If we’re going to put $3.5 billion at risk, I’d rather see government private partnerships that would develop the key technologies, draw down the risks, and do testing in a proper manner. The XS-1 program is a step toward that direction.

  • James

    This looks good and sounds good for the people who came up with it that’s why.

    I was a big fan of them but after seeing the same things as you and some of my own experiences with the above type of people I have realized its really, really not worth it.

  • Douglas Messier

    This effort seems inspired by the Ansari X Prize while ignoring everything that went wrong in the decade that followed. It’s progress by large leaps rather than steady progress that tackles the challenges in a step-by-step manner.

  • James

    Yep. The US military abandoned the slow and steady upgrade idea for a lot of its tech and none of it has come out well, ontime, or in budget. Most simply has fizzled away.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, technology is always market driven. Create an environment for that market to form and you will see RLVs emerge with the need for a prize. Prevent that market from emerging and all the prizes in the world won’t build an RLV.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, this group is so lost in the past it is sad. All this looks like is a last desperate gasp of leaders who are stuck in the past.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, which means it would be a super size failure. Only this time it will be the American tax payer who pays, not just the tax payers of New Mexico…

    You have to wonder what is in the water in Washington where these folks hang out 🙂

  • ThomasLMatula

    If this group wanted to really create a “prize” to stimulate RLVs as well as space settlement they should just promote the ASTEROID ACT.

    Being able to claim control over a twenty trillion dollar asset (yes, that is Trillion with a T) would really get folks interested. Especially as there are no limits on the number of winners 🙂

    And then, as Act Two, create a similar law for lunar resources – i.e. if you dig it out of the lunar soil it is YOURS.

    Best of all, neither law requires taking any money from hard working tax payers. Instead both laws will create new industries and new tax payers, so its a win-win for America as well as the entrepreneurs.

    But then that is 21st Century thinking…

  • Enrique Moreno

    Yes, in my opinion you are right, but I also think that a “catalyst” can be necessary to start a revolution in space travels. 3.5 M$ is a very low budget if this goal is achieved and. Just now two companies are developing solutions in that direction, Blue Origin and SpaceX…