NSRC Day 2 Summary

SNC technicians inspect the Dream Chaser ETA. (Credit: SNC)
SNC technicians inspect the Dream Chaser ETA. (Credit: SNC)

The second day of the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference took place in Colorado on Friday. Although I wasn’t able to attend, I have compiled highlights via Twitter posts. (You can follow along with hashtag #nsrc2016.)

Below is a summary of updates that cover Sierra Nevada Corporation, Cecil Airport, Spaceport Colorado, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, World View Enterprises, NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

There was a presentation by Charles Walker, who was the first person to perform commercial experiments in space as a payload specialist on three space shuttle missions.

A separate panel discussion on human-tended space research reached the unsurprising consensus that government should lift its ban on sending scientists into space with their experiments.

Sierra Nevada Corporation

John Olson
Vice President of Space Exploration Systems

  • Inaugural Dream Chaser cargo flight to ISS scheduled for between October 2019 and April 2020
  • Two Dream Chasers to fly total of 30 times over 10 years
  • NASA has reserved a minimum of 6 flights under CRS-2 contract
  • Commercial missions planned for 2020-2021 will carry experiments arranged by NanoRacks
  • Initial flights on United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V and later ULA’s successor Vulcan launch vehicle
  • Dream Chaser could be launched on Japan’s H-3 and Europe’s Ariane 6 boosters
  • Working with six airports and spaceports as locations to land

Cecil Airport

Todd Lindner
Administrator of Planning and Development
Jacksonville Aviation Authority

  • Obtaining spaceport license for Cecil Airport was not easy given many people with different agendas
  • Working with Generation Orbit, a company developing an air-launched smallsat launcher, and a couple of other launch providers whose names were not mentioned
  • Negotiating with Sierra Nevada Corporation for landing Dream Chaser vehicles at the airport
  • Cecil Field has to deal with protecting endangered gopher tortoises

Spaceport Colorado

David Ruppel
Front Range Airport

  • Submitted spaceport license to FAA in January, expect to receive license in late summer
  • Close proximity to Denver International Airport created challenges for obtaining spaceport license that had to be worked out with FAA
  • Proximity of airport and spaceport serves as model for integrating air and space traffic
  • Proximity to Denver International and access to the state’s large economy are reasons for companies to use Spaceport Colorado
  • Spaceport can only handle horizontally launch space vehicles
  • XCOR’s decision to suspend work on the Lynx suborbital space plane, which takes off from a runway, was an “unfortunate” setback

FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation

George Nield
Associate Administrator

  • FAA has been receiving request to evaluate and license exciting non-traditional spaced projects
  • High-performance jet operators want t o provide advanced spaceflight training
  • Expected boost in FY 2017 budget will allow FAA AST to hire additional staff to deal with increased workloads
  • Although the risk of orbital debris is better understood, nobody’s done much to address the problem

World View Enterprises

Alan Stern
Chief Scientist

  • Balloons have a lot of advantages for commercial and scientific research and education
  • So much demand for research using our balloons that we haven’t taken the human-rated vehicle past preliminary design review
  • Flying vehicle without crew will make later human flights safer
  • 3-letter government agencies that he can’t name are interested in using World View’s capabilities

NASA Flight Opportunities Program

Robert Yang
Program Executive

  • Made in Space, which has a 3-D printer in the space station, is a Flight Opportunities Program success story — used parabolic flights to develop zero gravity printer
  • Program plans external call for payloads twice a year to receive more proposals

Commercial Research

Charles Walker
First Private Commercial AstronautPayload Specialist, Space Shuttle

  • Conduct detailed planned and dry runs before flying to make sure experiments in space go well
  • Even with four minutes of microgravity time on suborbital flights there will be investigations that are best performed with a researcher tending the experiment
  • He was an outsider for three shuttle flights, so he ended up preparing most of the crew meals

Panel: Human-Tended Research

Chair: Dr. C. Marsh Cuttino, Orbital Medicine Inc.
Dr. Dan Durda – Southwest Research Institute
Dr. Robert Ferl – University of Florida
Dr. Mackenzie Lystrup – Ball Aerospace
Dr. H. Todd Smith – JHU/APL
Mr. Charlie Walker – (Retired Commercial Astronaut)

Panelists really want to accompany their experiments into space because:

  • rockets need people
  • experiments need people
  • people can communicate their work better than machines
  • people are more interested in seeing other people fly than an automated experiment
  • space should be treated as an extension of a lab environment or field work
  • it can be time consuming and cost prohibitive to automate certain experiments
  • the federal government funds researchers to go into risky environments such as the depths of the oceans, poisonous caves and the polar regions
  • flying on suborbital vehicles is exactly the same and deserves federal support for sending scientists aloft.

Editor’s Note: I’m going to take issue with this last claim. Here’s why:

It’s one thing to send marine biologists into the depths of the oceans. Deep sea submersibles are a proven technology; they have been in use for decades. We know what their safety record is, and we can properly gauge the risks involved. Same thing with polar exploration.

Commercial suborbital spaceflight is a whole new ballgame. Other than three flight tests of a now retired spacecraft conducted 12 years ago, we have no data for measuring risks involving human suborbital missions. SpaceShipOne never carried passengers. The X-15 flights were conducted 50 years ago.

There are no mandatory safety standards for suborbital vehicles; this was by industry demand. The FAA’s main role is to try to ensure that nobody gets hurt when these things crash. Such an incident was narrowly avoided in the SpaceShipTwo crash.

You have an industry with no track record that is exempt from any government safety regulations. You can’t then turn around and ask the government to fund flights based on the premise that they’re not any more dangerous than other funded research. You can’t have it both ways.

The industry needs to go out and fly vehicles with people in them. To space. Repeatedly. Safely. Go out and prove you can do all this stuff you’ve been promising to do for the last dozen years. If you prove yourselves, then the government will change its policy.

  • mzungu

    “Inaugural Dream Chaser cargo flight to ISS scheduled for between October 2019 and April 2020”?? What? in time to help de-orbit the station?

  • Aerospike

    everybody but Europe (ESA) has already agreed to extend ISS to 2024 and with ESA it is only a matter of “when”, not “if” they will agree.

    There is zero chance of ESA pulling out of ISS.

  • windbourne

    Why zero chance? ESA is talking about moon village with Russia and China. If they are serious, seems like the smart thing is to pull out of iss and focus on making cheap launch vehicles, along with life support, lunar vehicles, villages, etc.

  • ThomasLMatula

    ESA has been talking about going to the Moon since the early 1990’s. But they face one insurmountable challenge, none of the members are interested in spending any money to make it happen or take the initiative to lead it. As always Europe wants the USA to do the financing and lead.

    So ESA will be doing what it has been doing, tagging along with the U.S. on ISS, and then it will tag along with whatever the U.S. does after ISS.

  • Vladislaw

    I thought ESA announced they were adding hardware to the ISS.. why would they if they are done?

  • Vladislaw

    IF the ESA and member states funded something relating to putting their own people into LEO I might take them serious but if they are not willing to build a transportation system for humans to fly the first 200 miles… I doubt they are going to fund flying the other 230,000 miles.

  • P.K. Sink

    Right. It already is literally tagging along with Orion as its service module.

  • P.K. Sink

    Thanks for the report Doug. I especially enjoyed the Dream Chaser stuff.

  • “Two Dream Chasers to fly total of 30 times over 10 years”- is this referring to the smaller cargo version for CRS-2 or the full sized vehicle?

  • I don’t think there is another scale vehicle. The crewed and cargo versions have the same outer mold line, dimensions, propulsion, etc. The main difference is between seats and stowage.

  • Don’t forget, they tagged along on Shuttle with SpaceLab as well. America invited the friendly space players to contribute, same thing with Canadarm.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Huh? Folding wings, deletion of the main propulsion, added external pressurized cargo module with external storage and launch inside a payload fairing.

    The same vehicle mold line only after ejecting the PCM before reentry. The cargo Dreamchaser is basically a new vehicle.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    I cant believe that SNC is only building 2 Dream Chasers. They have no ambitions beyond NASA contracts? I guess Boeing was the better choice for the CCTCAP award.

  • P.K. Sink

    SNC has said that they hope to use profits from the NASA cargo deliveries to fund further crew ship development. They have also hooked up with ESA to fund some of the work. Meanwhile they’ve been working with Huntsville on a landing strip. VG and XCOR have demonstrated how difficult and expensive space plane development can be. And they’re just suborbital. I think that Dream Chaser is gonna be OK.

  • ReSpaceAge

    I wonder if as a will hire SpaceX to fly any cargo/experiments/missions to Mars in the next 9 years?

  • patb2009

    Building one is an accomplishment.
    If they fly good and the market is there, they can build more.

  • Aerospike

    Yes, but it is still the same scale as the crew Dream Chaser as far as I know, right?

    I remember that there had been some talk about a 2/3 or 75% (somewhere in that ballpark) sized cargo version at some point, but the current cargo Dream Chaser is of the same size as the crewed version would have been. Or have things changed?

  • Aerospike

    As others have pointed out, there is (as of yet) not anywhere near enough political (or commercial) interest in creating an independent (European) human spaceflight program including launchers and in-space transportation.

    Leaving ISS would basically end ESA’s human spaceflight program. The new director is increasing the PR about a “moon village”, but that should not be misinterpreted as Europe having the will (or ability) to go there alone.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    There was some talk of a reduce scale Dreamchaser for Stratolaunch.

    The Cargo Dreamchaser is much bigger than the crewed Dreamchaser. They added an expandable cargo module to the rear of the the Dreamchaser.

  • Aerospike

    Ah thank you for pointing out Stratolaunch, now I remember.

    The overall system might be bigger, but for me when I talk about the Dream Chaser I mean the lifting body “spaceplane”, and not any add-on parts/systems.

    (Just like most people actually only mean the orbiter, when they say “Space Shuttle”. 🙂 )

  • mzungu

    Guess I haven’t been paying attention to the ISS much.. 😀 What’s the holdup with ESA? Are they blackmailing for better terms? Seems like the fashionable thing to do with EU members these days to use breakups as a threat… LOL

    Even if they do go through extending it, I don’t see how it can be economical to use a reusable for just 4 years. There is now average of 1 flights up the ISS every month, divid up that with Russia, SpaceX, Boeing, and maybe SNC, it seem it’ll be lucky to fly just once or twice before it’s going to the museum…

  • Aerospike

    The “holdup” is just the usual – painfully slow – pace at which European politics and bureaucracy tend to operate. 😛

    I assume the extension of the ISS will be officially signed at the next ministerial council meeting of ESA member states ( I think that will be at the end of the year, can’t find a firm date currently).

  • windbourne

    I think that is the point of SpaceX sending multiple red dragons there. I would not be surprised to see them send multiples in the windows.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    I hope they have a chance to build several more Dreamchasers for crew & cargo. Otherwise, we’ve seen this train before. Can you imagine United Airlines with only two classes of an airplane passenger and cargo travel?

  • P.K. Sink

    I guess that they’ll build enough to satisfy perceived demand. Like SX, they can tweek the designs as they learn their lessons. If the Europeans want to start launching on the Arian, that ought to pump up the numbers. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d76e30ccd384e2741cc38bbf19816ad8133458033d05a4972a7735e438bdcd37.jpg