Devon Island Expedition

Devon Island Expedition
This blog features educational updates on my Devon Island Expedition of July 14-20, 2007. Other sites:,

Thursday, February 4, 2010

We are Ready for Commercial Human Spaceflight

US Policy on access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is on the edge of a dramatic shift. Currently, only three governments have the independent capability of launching astronauts into LEO: The United States, Russia and China. After the US Space Shuttle is decommissioned from service, there will be only two. The Review of US Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, headed by the highly respected former aerospace executive, Norm Augustine, included in their report, the option of stimulating commercial efforts to provide access to LEO. It makes sense: We have been flying to LEO for almost fifty years, so the technology is quite mature and available. The challenge is to make this a commercial practicality.

The idea of private, commercial space access has been around for decades. It is not a new one, and it is not one that has yet found success. The advent of SpaceShip One winning the Ansari X-prize in 2004, was an important milestone. Although the privately built vehicle was only designed for suborbital flight, it proved that a non-government spacecraft was possible. Commercial orbital flight will be much more difficult, but I believe it is possible.

Many of my colleagues and peers have written articles and pieces, deriding the idea of commercial LEO access. Indeed, the track record of the self-described “New Space” companies has thus far, been marked generally with failure and arrogance. Not all, but many of these folks, before they run their companies into the ground, seem to spend the bulk of their time attending self-serving, self-aggrandizing conferences where openly slinging mud at NASA is sport. This is hardly constructive, and it brings discredit to others who have serious aspirations for the future of commercial spaceflight.

However, I respectfully disagree with my colleagues who believe that only governments can and should engage in human spaceflight. We members of the Augustine Commission (as the review committee came to be known) fully intended for the commercial LEO efforts to include contributions from the traditional aerospace companies. These companies, or their predecessors, built every US crewed spacecraft to date. They have much to offer. To exclude them entirely would be foolish and valuable knowledge wasted.

The time is right for commercial human spaceflight. Private companies should learn the lessons from NASA and traditional aerospace, and then try to apply them in a more efficient manner. It is understandable how and why the processes for government/contractor space programs have evolved into what they are today: Bureaucratic and inefficient, but safe. The key is to work in a smart manner to provide efficiency, without sacrificing safety, perhaps in partnership with traditional aerospace companies.

Anytime there is significant change in the air, the establishment gets nervous. This is to be expected. Sometimes dramatic change is necessary to achieve fresh results. Time will tell if the private companies will achieve LEO access, but I for one, remain optimistic. Americans have always been innovative, flexible and doggedly determined. If it can be done, the citizens of the US still embody the creativity and courage to find the way.

Leroy Chiao


ernieacosta said...

I agree with your statement. Its time to allow the private industry stakeholders to put some skin in the game. We'll never know if they can do it unless there is an opportunity and cooperation offered.

Thank you,


Marcel F. Williams said...

I'm a strong proponent of spending Federal money helping to develop a private man space launch capability. But NASA should also have its own space flight capability and not be dependent upon private spacelines in order to access space.

Placing strong government regulations on how a private company should develop its space launch capability is a bad idea, IMO. Just give them the money and leave them alone. NASA needs to stay out of their business and they need to stay out of NASA's business. The private spaceflight companies should avoid depending on government contracts and instead focus on commercial satellite launching and space tourism.

The best way to fund the private space tourism industry is with a national space lotto system which would allow hundreds of millions of adult Americans to purchase a $1 ticket for a chance to win a flight into space aboard a private commercial space rocket and an international space lotto system allowing billions of adults around the world a chance to fly on an American private commercial space vehicle.

Craig said...

Leroy, as always, thank you for your views. I agree, we need commercial, but we also need NASA to remain in the human spaceflight business for awhile yet. To totally cancel Constellation is actually sending NASA backwards in my opinion. To plant more seed money for commercial is smart. This HAS to be done in stages. NOT OVERNIGHT.

Gary Miles said...

I support the development of commercial spaceflight to LEO and government support in expanding the market for commercial spaceflight in LEO. However, this new support does not have to come at the expense of US human space exploration beyond LEO to the Moon and eventually Mars. The new FY2011 budget proposal has essentially gutted the Vision for Space Exploration without providing any new framework or vision for NASA.

jmpf said...

commercial spaceflight is our best hope to get off this rock for sure -- keep up the writing

Jakub said...

I find it odd that people keep equating VSE with ESAS and forget there is a distinction between the two. VSE is a plan announced by president Bush in 2004. VSE let to the Aldridge commission and NASA starting to work on their recommendations under administrator O'Keefe and Admiral Staidle.
ESAS was a Mike Griffin's attempt to repeat Apollo.
The new Obama approach is actually much closer to what NASA did before ESAS. Remember, the goals of VSE were:

- Implement a sustained and affordable humand and robotic program to expore the solar system and beyond;
- Extend human presence across the solar system, starting with human return to the Moon by 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations;
- Develop innovative technologies
- Promote international and commercial participation in exploration to futher U.S. scientific, security and economic interests.

Apollo On Steroids has failed at every single point. So let's put it into the dustbin of 1960 history, where it belongs, and look forward to a better future.

Orion as it ended up has is not needed. A true Crew Exploration Vehicle which would stay in space(life support, radiation protection), refuel in LEO (propellant depots), went wherever we want to go and then came back to LEO(aerobraking) has - and the new plan provides for research in those areas.

Leroy Chiao, thank you for supporting the new plan.

eda said...



rboozer said...

Some say that we cannot be Number One in beyond-LEO space exploration when we have no fully defined destinations or a timeline for reaching them.
But it’s hard to pin down destinations and deadlines before the in-space infrastructure for reaching them efficiently is developed. It’s like saying right after the automobile was invented “I can’t go very far.” before the existence of the roads and gas stations that allowed extended travel. But just as Bolden said, once this infrastructure (such as fuel depots) has been built and price to LEO is lowered using commercial launch then the moon, asteroids and Mars become easily accessible.

In fact the whole inner solar system becomes not just reachable for a few landings, but sustainably reachable.

We will be a leader because we will be the only nation that has the infrastructure to do it affordably. It’s something we’ve been putting off for decades and its time we bite the bullet and do it!

Some say, "How can we talk about expeditions to other planets or asteroids if the cost of landing on the moon is as prohibitive as is claimed?"
There is nothing prohibitive if all you want to do is do it a few times as with Apollo. Again, the question is making it economically possible to do it over and over again indefinitely. Yes,now from the standpoint of economic sustainability it is prohibitive, but not after the needed ground floor development.

Some say it is foolhardy to get rid of Constellation.
No, because it was not a practical step toward the goal of indefinitely affordable technology.

I am grateful to you, Leroy, and the other members of the Augustine commission for pointing the way for the U.S. to become the Number One spacefaring nation.

Jim said...

Mr. Chiao, I respect your views and your experience as an astronaut.

But I think the point that was missed in your blog was that this debate should not be about either--or. This is a false choice.

First, zeroing-out Constellation will save 0.12% of the whole U.S. Budget. Of the Discretionary Budget, that is the part of the Budget that can actually be changed easily by Congress, Constellation is only 0.33%. Even if the whole Discretionary Budget of the U.S. was zeroed-out at $1.37T, the deficit would still be rising. The only way to cut the deficit is to touch the remaining part of the U.S. Budget, the 64%, or $2.4T, of which DoD is only $700B & change. So when Administrator Bolden and the other pro-commercial folks within the White House speak of Constellation being too much of a load during a time of high deficits...That. Is. Nonsense.

If commercial launchers are indeed ready, then they can prove that point by fulfilling their resupply contracts with NASA to ISS without untoward problems for a few years.

However, as the record of Rotary Corporation, XCOR, RpK, Space Ventures, Beal Aerospace, The Da Vinci Project, Blast Off! Corp., and Space Services has been marked by great promises, intense cash burn-through and then bankruptcy, you and others in the pro-commercial space flight camp can, I am sure, understand the reluctance of Americans and their members of Congress to follow so blindly that siren song of commercial space now. No, until they do prove themselves by consistently not blowing-up cargo, the U.S. gov't, through NASA, should continue to be the primary party responsible for our country's human space access.

Lastly, as someone with over 20 years in business experience, including two start-up's, I can assure you and your readers that there's nothing commercial about the commercial launchers. Otherwise, those very few still on life-support such as SpaceX wouldn't be on NASA's dole every year for hundreds of millions of dollars, even as they continue to fall further behind schedule and go farther over-budget. No, they would go to the markets and get their money based on their ability to deliver on their ROI projections. We all know that none of the these rocket "hobbyists" would last 2 minutes inside an investors meeting.

I admire the passion of the commercial supporters. But until the commercial launchers can demonstrate, not just promise, that they can launch humans safely into orbit, this is all talk and no walk.

Marcel F. Williams said...

Dr. Chiao, I think terminating the Orion was a very bad idea and not funding a directly shuttle derived HLV to launch the Orion and unmanned payloads was another bad idea. There are strong indications that both vehicles could be operational within 5 years time. And I don't think such a vehicle would have to compete against privately launched vehicles but could be used as a back up until privately used vehicles are ready.

But I don't think we should place all of our eggs in the one basket of new vehicles that are being developed by private industry. And this could not only be a matter of leadership but also a matter of our national security!

Fabrizio said...

While believing that the new space plan is a sound one, despite its bitter aspects, I am uncertain that scrapping Orion is a wise thing to do. Notice I am only referring to Orion: it should be left as a commercial venture to LM to enter the new arena of commercial spaceflight services.

But more importantly, after reading tons of posts everywhere, I see that basically nobody sees the chance of a serious international partnership with Europe's ESA to build the next space infrastructure. ESA has many mature technologies that can be put into service immediately, a very strong and able astronauts corp, and the interests and willingness of many nations to keep ISS active.

If ESA hasn't developed its own HSF capability, it is because it always got US and Russia as partners with whom hitch a ride. Remember ESA got very far in the studies for its Hermes spacecraft, cancelled because Shuttle and Soyuz where just always available. Hermes wasn't much different from Dream Chaser, but it was 15 years earlier in conception.

Now it is the time to built a partnership on a different level and create together an ITAR-less space infrastructure where everybody can contribute. I do believe that putting together the industrial experiences of both sides of the Atlantic will achieve a way to access to LEO sooner than expected.

American people should be respectfully reminded how often they fly on European built aircrafts that still show technology breakthroughs, or that US airliner are indeed built with a very fruitful international cooperation. In a certain sense, US should stop thinking about "american astronauts flying on american rockets" or we all risk to be flying on beautiful China-made spacecrafts.

Trout said...

One of the problems is the Congress doesn't fund programs like this correctly. In my personal budget I need to drive to work. My expenses are high the years when I am either saving up for or paying off the financing of a new car. Once it is paid off I reduce my car budget to cover operation and maintenance.

For some political reason Congress can't or won't do this with NASA. When it's time for a new rocket they should be able to say we are going to increase the budget by $5B or $10B for 5 years to pay for the development of this new rocket. Once it's designed we are going to reduce funding for the operations. This way they aren't opened to a lifetime of the new budget. But I guess it's impossible because once the funds are allocated to the agency people will cry when it is cut even if it was expected from the beginning.


New NASA Human Program Options For 2010 Consideration

The new NASA Human Spaceflight Programs shall be developed by the NASA HQ from 2010 on.

I) The HSF programs shall cover the following systems:

1) Lunar Transportation Systems.

2) Lunar Surface Systems

3) Manned ISRU

4) International Systems

II) Lunar Human Programs development schedule:

1) Phase A: 2010-2011

2) Phase B: 2012-2015

3) Phase CD: 2015-2030

III) Lunar Human Programs operation schedule:

1) Phase 1: 2025-2035 (Under NASA's management)

2) Phase 2: 2035-2045 (Under NASA/private commercial management)

3) Phase 3: 2045-2090 (Under private commercial management)

IV) Lunar Human Programs management site:

NASA’s JSC shall lead the all management actions for the return to the Moon support.

Future generation needs new programs so that they can have a better new life.

Marcel F. Williams said...

I would further argue that the Orion is probably the only component of the Constellation system that could be attractive to private industry as long as their rocket boosters were capable of lifting at least 22 tonnes into orbit.

Passenger safety is probably going to make or break a private commercial launch company. And being able to purchase a government certified space craft from Lockheed could be an advantage.

A second advantage for a private commercial launch company would be that the Orion would be capable of missions to lunar orbit or to a Lagrange point with a reusable OTV (orbital transfer vehicle) for tourist trips to the Moon via a reusable lunar lander.

Marcel F. Williams said...

NASA's approximately $10 billion a year manned space flight budget is so tiny that if you ended it in order to attempt to pay off our $12 trillion national dept, it would take over a thousand years to do so. However, studies have shown that for every $1 spent by NASA, more than $2 is created for the general economy. So by doing that, we would actually be loosing more than a trillion dollars worth of economic growth during that time period.

It is a total myth that the manned space program is too expensive to sustain and is hurting our economy. A myth that has caused its underfunding which has really hurt our economy!

rboozer said...

No, until they do prove themselves by consistently not blowing-up cargo, the U.S. gov't, through NASA, should continue to be the primary party responsible for our country's human space access.
First, ULA has already proven it can get cargo to orbit for years, as has Orbital. That cargo being satellites. As you know Leroy, Elon Musk told you directly to your face that he would not even consider sending astronauts on Falcon 9/Dragon until it had delivered to orbit at least 12 times.
The above quoted comment completely ignores the fact that NASA will be setting a series of goals for each company to meet, one of the most important being safety. Money will be offered to commercial companies piecemeal. At each stage of vehicle development if requirements (especially safety requirements) are not met to NASA's very stringent standards, the company will not be allowed to proceed to the next level. Again, I have explained this fact to Mr. Hillhouse before in other forums, but it hasn't sunk in. NASA will be the final decider of safety for the commercially developed rockets. If NASA says a vehicle is not safe enough at ANY stage of development, it won't even become a finished vehicle because they won't pay the company any more money unless and until the company corrects the problem.

Jim said...

And as I have tried to explain to Mr. Boozer, his past statements are at variance both with good aerospace engineering and with sound business practices.

You do not get rid of a program you know will work in exchange for one that might work, maybe, sometime down the line with suppliers whose past performance is severely challenged at best.

I am unaware of one single mission of a human-rated commercial launcher. This means that, for the commercial guys to use their launchers, they will have to human-rate them and get certification of such.

Then, and this is where Rick and I part company, the commercial guys need to fly these rockets to ISS and then return the capsule/spacecraft back safely, and the commercial guys need to demonstrate that they can get this right every time because, as former Deputy Administrator Hans Mark once told me, Americans do not like it when you blow-up their astronauts.

Until this capability to get cargo on the same rockets that will be used to loft astronauts is convincingly exhibited, it is beyond logic to give up Constellation.

rboozer said...

the commercial guys need to fly these rockets to ISS and then return the capsule/spacecraft back safely, and the commercial guys need to demonstrate that they can get this right every time

And if Constellation were to proceed, the same logic should apply to Aries/Orion. The people working on Constellation are not the same people who got us to the moon or built shuttle. To fly astronauts with Aries I after only one test flight with a vehicle produced by people who have never built a human orbital transport is reckless foolishness. As was said by a NASA administrator addressing the Aries I-X flight personnel immediately after the flight of Aries I-X, "The commercial people are just learning how to do this and so are we."

Also, Hillhouse's post does not address the recurring launch costs for Aries I that would be enormously higher than with the commercial launchers. And when the amortized development costs for Aries I are added on to the recurring costs, the per launch costs are even higher.

rboozer said...

Clarification of one of my comments:

To fly astronauts with Aries I after only one test flight with a vehicle produced by people who have never built a human orbital transport is reckless foolishness.

When I say after only "one test flight", I am not including the flight of Aries I-X. Instead, I am talking about flying astronauts on the second completed TRUE Ares I as has been proposed.

Josh said...

Mr Chiao, thank you for your level response, one that goes against convention one might expect from someone in your position. The more support for the new direction we have, the better, as it is the first time in my lifetime I have seen a paradigm shift in NASA for the better.



NASA’s Earth Sciences and Climate Change must go commercial. It should be commercialized so as to make it more cost effective and save the budget for the NASA’s budget. NASA’s Space Sciences and Mars research must go commercial. It should be commercialized so as to make it more cost effective and save the budget for the NASA’s budget. NASA shall not waste the limited money from its limited budget for the Earth Sciences and Space sciences as of today’s budget problems.

Billion dollars cost of the millions light years away pictures shall be done by the commercial companies, so there will be enough money for NASA to save the human’s life in space now.

Great nation shall take care the human’s life first.

nasalabforthemoonNOW said...

I just can't believe it. Yes, we love commercial space finally being elevated. But in the current proposals, aren't you going to say anything about ambitious NASA human spaceflight dieing, the obvious drastic cutting of JSC & KSC that the White House is opening the door so wide for, the current disolving of the solid NASA aims for the Moon & Mars, the ambiguous limbo proposed for our program while the military, oppressional government of China is ready, when the shuttle ends, to lay seige to the world spotlight for immediate moon flights & a probable landing?? I'm a fan of yours, but I'm crying out for help to the solid educational inspiration & educational uplift that can only come from a truly national, NASA PROGRAM (maybe with esa, etc) for the Moon & Mars! Argh, you aren't being mutinous are you friend! Restore the vision of a NASA lab on the Moon NOW!

Leroy Chiao said...

Thank you all for your comments! I agree that Orion should not have been canceled. And, I believe that some form of Orion will be resurrected. The commercial I advocated is for LEO access. A CEV and a US heavy lift capability should be done by NASA, to push beyond LEO.

Leroy Chiao



NASA’s robotic programs must go commercial. It should be commercialized so as to make it more cost effective and save the budget for the NASA’s cost. NASA shall not waste the limited money from its limited budget for the robotic programs as of today’s budget problems, so there will be enough money for NASA to save the human’s life in space now.

NASA shall pull off all robotic programs that require human exploration because sending humans to space would be a great deal simpler since many of the technological challenges related to sending humans to space would have been overcome, such as to the Moon in the 1960s.

Great nation shall take care of the human’s life first in space.

Red said...

Red Cross and Red Crescent Club
Youth Organization
iranian red crescent

auto motix said...

this is really the advantage of the technology and this is very well.
salvage auto yard

Bartholomew said...

I agree with your statement.
Commercial Vans