NewSpace in 2009
Ups and Downs in entrepreneurial spaceflight February 2, 2010
In 2009 Masten
Space Systems won both the Level I second place
the Level II first place purse in the Northrop Grumman
Lunar Lander Challenge. (Video)
A Good Year
The bottom line at the top: 2009 was an exceptionally
good year for NewSpace.
I begin here with an overview of developments in the
industry and community and then follow with a compilation
of links to articles and blog postings concerning major
events and accomplishments during the year. (See my
discussion in the 2008 review of what I mean by
the term NewSpace.) The list comes primarily
from a scan of postings on my Space
Transport News blog, which again saw a very busy
12 months. Please compare this review with the
2008 and 2007
In 2009, progress occurred across a range of important
areas including hardware development, vehicle flights,
finance, markets, regulations, and spaceports. Such
progress began to gain attention more broadly as illustrated
by the Aviation Week cover above. Another sign of this
came from the Augustine panel's recommendation that
NASA use commercial services for access to LEO. This
was a major milestone in the decades long battle by
advocates of boosting the commercial role in space development.
accounting of NewSpace progress in 2009 is very
long, so I will first give a short list here of the
top ten NewSpace successes in 2009. The order is somewhat
arbitrary. It's difficult to know which of these will
have the most lasting long term impact.
Falcon 1 launches
The Falcon 1 launch in September of 2008 was the fourth
attempt to launch a Falcon 1 and was the first to
be successful. That launch proved that the basic system
worked but it only orbited a dummy payload. The successful
launch of RazakSAT in July 13, 2009 proved that the
vehicle could do what it was designed to do. It was
the first successful orbiting of a satellite by a
private company with a ground launched, liquid-fueled
Lynx II lease to Korean firm
This $28M deal with the South Korean firm Yecheon
Astro Space Center was an important indication of
growing success of entrepreneurial firms in finding
funding and new markets. It also helps a new type
of vehicle to enter the commercial suborbital spaceflight
After delays due to the accident at Scaled and the
challenges of building a larger vehicle than originally
expected after the SS1 victory in the X PRIZE, the
SS2 design was unveiled on December 7th. Initial tests
will begin in 2010 and lead to rocket flight tests
late in 2010 or early 2011.
initiates series of flights to higher altitudes
Armadillo Aerospace won second place in the NGLLC
Level II competition and also made significant progress
in several areas including the start of flights to
higher and higher altitudes with their vertical takeoff-vertical
in NewSpace ventures grows substantially
Despite the turmoil in the financial world in 2009,
private investment in NewSpace ventures grew substantially.
For example, Virgin Galactic got a commitment of $280M,
SpaceX got $60M, and XCOR got $28M.
NewSpace Event Reviews
HobbySpace posted the
following event reviews and interviews in 2009:
Rollout - Links to articles, blog postings, photos
and videos about the unveiling of the SpaceShipTwo
vehicle on Dec. 7, 2009 at the Mojave Spaceport by
2009 Resources - Links to blog reports, articles,
videos, photos, etc. for the flight events by the
teams in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge
competition. In 2009 each team arrange for its round
in the competition at a place and date of its own
choosing. The resources are organized by each round.
For each category, I split the entries into Ups
and Downs according to whether the events represented
positive or negative steps towards NewSpace goals.
the Malaysian RazakSAT spacecraft on a Falcon I
rocket on July 13, 2009. (Video)
This was also the first time that SpaceX or any private
company had successfully place a working satellite into
orbit using a liquid fueled rocket.
The firm's Falcon I launch in 2008 had placed a dummy
payload into orbit.
NewSpace developments and projects directly
involved with launch to orbit or orbital operations.
Augustine panel backs
commercial transport for NASA
panel's review of the US human spaceflight program
recommended that NASA cancel the Ares I and use commercial
companies to obtain crew transport to low earth orbit
and the ISS. A competition was recommended to select
There were hundreds of entries during the year
about the Augustine panel and its report to the
President. I won't try to list them here. A search
on "Augustine" will bring up many
of the postings. See, for example, Augustine
panel: Wrap-up - June.18.09, which describes
the panel's 1st public meeting.
I Satellite Launch Success:
On September 28, 2008, the fourth launch of a SpaceX
I rocket achieved orbit - the company's first
Falcon 9 Milestones:
SpaceX did not succeed in launching the Falcon 9 in
2009 but did make steady progress towards preparing
the F9/Dragon system for launch in the first of half
of 2010. During the year SpaceX met the goals of the
NASA ISS COTS program.
Other SpaceX developments:
SpaceX gained Orbcomm and Astrium payload contracts
for the Falcon I and a Argentine contract for two
payloads for the Falcon 9. The company received about
$60M in outside private funding.
NASA's COTS and CRS programs currently fund SpaceX
and Orbital Sciences only for development and implementation
of cargo resupply of the ISS. The "D" option
to COTS would add money for upgrading the systems
to carry crews as well. The SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon
system has been designed from the beginning to be
safe for crews but the company needs additional funding
for development of the Dragon's launch abort system.
So far, no funding for commercial crew space transport
development has been allocated, though the CCDev program
in 2010 will allot about $50M to several companies
The two Bigelow
Aerospace habitat prototypes continued to operate
normally in orbit. The company continued work towards
the launch of the crew capable Sundancer "early
in the next decade".
and this interview
were from January 2010 but include info on what
the company was doing during 2009.
Galactic orbital launcher project Virgin
Galactic began a project called LauncherOne
in collaboration with Surrey Satellite to develop
a module for the WK2/SS2 system that would launch
a small sat to orbit:
Almaz This Isle of Man based firm plans to develop a
commercial human spaceflight program based on the
Soviet Almaz spacecraft system. The firm had been
developing the concept for several years in low key
manner and in 2009 they opened up their plans to the
public for the first time.
Reaction Engines Ltd.
Though not really a company with a NewSpace philosophy,
REL is using various private and government sources
of money to develop the essential technology and design
for an innovative SSTO system The goal is to move
the technology to a point where it can become an ESA
project. The estimate to develop the vehicle is in
the ~$15B range and will take about a decade. Reaction
Entines was quite active in 2009 with prototyping
work and with public outreach. Here is a sample of
postings about them:
for an accounting of the ISS tourism activities
of Space Adventures in 2009.
Fuel Depots - if NASA implemented a fuel depot
based approach to its deep space exploration architecture,
this would not only allow for greatly enhanced
missions but also provide a great opportunity
for commercial transport firms to lower costs
via the economies of scale attained in supplying
the depots. While the technology to begin serious
in-space prototyping is in hand, fuel depots currently
have no place in NASA's exploration architecture.
The Fuel Depot concept got a big boost, though,
in 2009 when it was strongly endorsed by the Augustine
NASA initially was going to allocate $80M of its
stimulus program money to the COTS-D crew transport
program. However, this was reduced to $50M after pressure
from Sen. Shelby of Alabama, who sought to protect
NASA's Ares I project from commercial competition.
Even the $50M was not distributed as of January 2010.
Composites / Virgin
Galactic - rolled out the SpaceShipTwo in December.
Scaled also carried out a test flight program for
the WhiteKnightTwo during the year and flew the WK2
to the Oshkosh air show at the end of July.
Rollout - Big collection of links to articles,
blog postings, photos and videos about the unveiling
of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle on Dec. 7, 2009 at
the Mojave Spaceport.
on Space Access 2009 - see this collection of
links, weblog entries, photos, videos, etc. from the
meeting where there were many presentations from entrepreneurial
companies developing various sorts of space transport
in New Zealand successfully launched its first sounding
rocket. The first stage was recovered but not the
payload so it is not clear if it reached space (100km).
If so, it would be the first privately built rocket
in the southern hemisphere to reach space.
Space made an attempt to launch its Helen rockoon
system in November but problems with the water launched
balloon caused them to abort. Another attempt with
an improved system will be tried in the spring of
Suspension of Soyuz ISS flights for private passengers?
There is no clear agreement between the Russian
Space Agency and Space Adventures for new flights
to the ISS on Soyuz vehicles. The increase in
the crew size of the ISS to six along with the
retirement of the Shuttle in 2010 has resulted
in a shortage of available seats for private passengers.
There are occasional statements about Space Adventures
chartering a new Soyuz flight to carry two passengers
in the 2012 time frame but there is still no clear
confirmation of this from the Russian Space Agency.
research on suborbital space vehicles gained considerable
speed in 2009 after initial efforts in 2008. Former
chief of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Alan
Stern, has been especially active in this area.
He is organizing conferences and training programs
and is a consultant with Blue Origin. NASA Ames has
also provided key support. Some initial tests on low
altitude flights of Armadillo vehicles has already
SpaceHab reorganized and
changed its name to Astrotech,
which emphasizes the firm's new commitment to microgravity
research. Their subsidiary Astrogenetix
is pursuing vaccine research via microgravity in a
way that shows particular promise.
Space - California electric utility PG&E
was allowed by regulators to contract for power
from this company, which claims to have an innovative
low mass SBSP system that can be launched by 2015.
PG&E will not provide any investment in the
company. Instead, the power from Solaren simply
counts towards PG&E's quota set by the state
of California for power obtained from alternative
renewal energy suppliers.
The RRL kept a generally low profile in 2009.
Previous promises of exhibition flights by 2009
were not met. They gave up their facilities at
the airport at Las Cruces, NM. However, they did
obtain new financing and reorganized. Armadillo
continued work on building racers powered by their
Award ceremony in Washington DC on
Nov. 5th. L-R: Doug Comstock (NASA Innovative
Partnerships), Dave Masten (Masten
Space), Charles Bolden (NASA Administrator),
Peter Diamandis (X
PRIZE Foundation), Phil Eaton (Armadillo
Mitch Waldman (Northrop Grumman). Masten holds a $1.15M
check from NASA for
winning the Level II first place purse ($1M) and Level
I second place purse in the NGLLC
competition. Eaton holds $500K for winning the Level
II second place purse. (Armadillo won
Level I first place in 2008.)
This section deals with the various space related prize
competitions in 2009.
Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge
The competition was particularly interesting
and exciting in 2009. Instead of a single event
at the end of October, the rules were modified
to allow for each team to decide on a particular
time and place of its choosing to do its flights.
The best performances by the end of October would
decide the winners.
Armadillo Aerospace won the Level I first place
in 2008 so the remaining prizes included the second
place ($150K) in the Level I and both the first
($1M) and second place ($500k) purses in Level
Masten Space pulled an upset win when it won the
Level II first place prize. Armadillo, which had
been the heavy favorite due to its greater experience
in the LLC events and a longer record of flighs,
came in second. Masten also won the Level I second
See the NGLCC
2009 Review section for extensive resources
(articles, photos, videos, etc) for the competition.
Also, in this section are entries for Masten,
Armadillo, and Unreasonable Rocket with links
to particular items regarding the NGLLC.
$1,650,000 in prize money in totoal was awarded
Unreasonable Rocket made one leg of the Level
I flight but the vehicle suffered damage on the
landing. They were only the third team to fly
at least one complete leg of the NGLLC levels.
Lunar X PRIZE competition continue to progress
with some new teams added and teams announcing news
regarding their lander systems. However, no team announced
a firm date and launch ride to the Moon.
teams continued working on their entries in this pico-sat
got its a commitment of $28M from the private South
Korean firm Yecheon Astro Space Center. The money
will go towards development of the Lynx space plane,
which XCOR will use to provide suborbital spaceflight
services at the spaceport. There are export control
issues to be resolved but this should be ameliorated
by the fact that the vehicles will be operated by
Propulsion, an innovative firm founded by Tim
Pickens, was bought by Dynetics. This is a great sign
for NewSpace firms, which can now point potential
investors to this buyout as an example of an exit
strategy from which they could make a substantial
Group study sponsored by the Commercial
Spaceflight Federation found that "total
investment in the commercial human spaceflight sector
has risen by 20% since January 2008, reaching a cumulative
total of $1.46 billion". In addition, "Revenues
and deposits for commercial human spaceflight services,
hardware, and support services has also grown, reaching
a total of $261 million for the year 2008.".
The financial crisis that hit the US and then the
rest of the world in the fall of 2008 affected investment
in NewSpace companies to some degree but as indicated
above, progress continued and new investment continued
to be found.
No new major angel investor like Bigelow or Bezos
entered the field (as far as we know).
(Photo credit: Michael Mealling) Unreasonable
Rocket's Blue Ball vehicle, which flew in
Lunar Lander Challenge, was displayed in the exhibition
room at the Space
conference in April. Testing of advanced rocket vehicles
like this one built by
small companies and amateur groups requires considerable
how to deal with FAA regulations, insurance, etc..
Small companies are especially impacted by regulatory
and liability matters since the firms typically have
limited funds for dealing with extensive paperwork requirements,
lawyers, etc. This section links to various items in
2009 that involved these issues.
In 2009 amateur and commercial groups began to
operate under the new FAA rules governing amateur
rockets, which were released at the end of 2008. (See
of new amateur rocket rules - Dec.9) Generally,
the new rules seemd to benefit those were were developing
Note that it is the rocket's performance level
that determines whether it is classified as amateur
or not. Commercial organizations launch under
amateur rules when their rocket meets amateur
"... the new homeland security chemical terrorism
prevention regulation [...] applies to anyone storing
400 pounds or more of hydrogen peroxide at 35% or
higher concentration. It's not a showstopper, but
it is another hurdle. " - Bob Steinke, Speed