In the previous Commercial Stairway to Space Timelines for
I laid out what I considered a realistic set of milestones that
would lead to a scenario in which private, commercial activity dominates
human spaceflight activity by 2015 or so. As discussed in the review
in 2007: Ups and Downs in entrepreneurial spaceflight
- the private entrepreneurial space industry had setbacks during
2007 but overall there was considerable progress made up the commercial
(Note: I often use just the word spaceflight as shorthand
for human spaceflight. So with commercial spaceflight I'm
referring to space tourism, Bigelow habitats, and other human related
space activities involving private companies and organizations while
with the term commercial space I'm adding in all the other
commercial activity like communication satellites, remote sensing,
Below I begin with a review
of what actually happened in 2007 versus my expectations.
As in previous years, some predictions came about and others did
not. I then give a list of my
expectations for the next decade or so.
Looking back at the 2004
and subsequent Stairway TimeLines, I find that the biggest surprise
has been the progress that Bigelow Aerospace has made. I also greatly
underestimated the scale of Mr.
Bigelow's ambitions for the company's orbital stations in the
2015-2020 time frame.
SpaceX didn't get the Falcon 1 operational as fast as I expected
but, on the otherhand, the Falcon 9/Dragon project has moved along
much faster than I thought it would because of the COTS funding.
Thus it looks quite likely there will be a NewSpace style orbital
transportation service that will start taking passengers to the
ISS and Bigelow habitats by 2012 or so.
A consistent miss-prediction, however, involves suborbital vehicles.
While I did correctly predict that the X PRIZE would be won, that
success was not followed by a series of commercial passenger-capable
vehicles as I and many others expected. In fact, a passenger capable
vehicle may not fly till 2009.
The reasons for the suborbital vehicle progress shortfall are manifold:
- The WK2/SS2 involved a one-off, prototype vehicle that could
be built and modified relatively quickly. The WK2/SS2 are not
only larger, more challenging vehicles, they are intended to be
produced on an assembly line that could build 40 or more vehicles
according to Burt Rutan. As with concept cars vs production vehicles
in the auto industry, going from prototype to mass production
of vehicles to sell to customers is a big step in complexity,
time, and money.
- Even so, if Scaled had not experienced the tragic test site
explosion in the summer of 2007, they probably would have begun
test flights of the SS2 by late 2008 and started commercial flights
- The handful of serious runner-ups in the X PRIZE were not as
close to flying as it seemed at the time. Also, they drew back
from the "crash" program sort of vehicles they were
planning to build to win the prize and instead began following
more long term systematic vehicle development. E.g. Armadillo
completely dropped its X PRIZE program and began pursuing quite
different technologies. It was also was sidetracked somewhat by
its Lunar Lander Challenge effort.
- Except for Blue Origin, funding for the "other guys"
generally has been lacking. XCOR, for example, had to put its
XERUS on the back burner while it developed engines and other
technologies under contracts with DARPA, NASA and the Rocket Racing
- I'll note that my 2004 prediction for "Development of commercial
sub-orbitals with 5-6 passenger capacity" in the 2009-2010
looks pretty good. It's as if everyone skipped development of
smaller vehicles to go for bigger ones!
The first fully integrated test firing of the Falcon
9 first stage took place in November 2007
with a single engine. The company plans gradually to work up to
firing all 9 engines.
The first Falcon 9 flight could come in late 2008 or early 2009.
Monster Update - Dec.10.07.)
Looking back on 2007, I get a sense of the year as one of preparation
and infrastructure development. Several rocket companies made significant
progress in hardware development even if there was not an outstanding
launch or spaceflight success. For example, the second test of the
SpaceX Falcon 1 did not get a dummy payload into orbit due to a
fuel sloshing problem in the second stage. However, the vehicle
did demonstrate very impressive robustness when it flew just one
hour after a hot fire abort. For low cost spaceflight ever to be
happen, that sort of fuel-up-and-fly operational simplicity
must become the norm.
Falcon 9 development moved along well and several other companies
such as Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, TGV Rockets, and XCOR
made significant hardware progress.
In 2008, I expect that SpaceX will get a Falcon 1 payload into
orbit and perhaps even fly the Falcon 9 for the first time. The
suborbital companies may not get a passenger-capable vehicle to
100 kilometers in 2008 but they will make big steps towards that
goal. Space altitude test flights should become routine in 2009.
Outfitters unveiled its first pressure suit
designed for commercial spaceflight operations.
Development of the infrastructure needed for low cost spaceflight
also moved ahead in 2007 and should continue in 2008. For example,
Orbital Outfitters unveiled its first pressure suit aimed for the
space tourist market. (The company hired the man who won the Space
Glove Centennial Challenge this year.) XCOR announced successful
development of a LOX/Methane and a N2O-ethane rocket engines. TGV
Rockets also began testing a large LOX/JP-8
Stephen Hawking is all smiles during the weightless
aboard a flight on a ZERO-G
aircraft in April 2007.
Another interesting development highlighted in 2007 involves the
increasing evidence that spaceflight can be carried out just fine
by non-Superhero types. Furthermore, those who have experienced
spaceflight are telling the world that it is an amazing and wonderful
ZERO-G, for example,
took quadriplegic Stephen Hawking on a parabolic flight in 2007
and he enjoyed the experience of weightlessness so much that he
asked for several additional parabolas beyond just the one they
had initially planned to do. He hopes to take a SpaceShipTwo ride
when it becomes available.
By employing a range of techniques such as providing preflight
instructions, starting with a sequence of parabolas of gradually
decreasing G forces, and offering the option of a mild medication,
ZERO-G has reportedly gotten the fraction of people who suffer motion
sickness on their flights down to one out of 20 or less. This is
probably not much different than the percentage of of landlubbers
who will get seasick during a ride on a sailboat on a moderately
The NASTAR Center
has opened a training program for people who plan to take space
tourism trips. Many of the two hundred or so people who have bought
tickets on the SpaceShipTwo have taken the NASTAR centrifuge training
program that simulates closely the profile of G forces that they
will undergo during a flight. So far it appears that all but a very
small fraction of potential passengers can easily endure the peak
5 to 6 Gs during SS2 flights. Even people of senior years have done
just fine. Only those with serious medical conditions will be prevented
from going on such a trip.
Meanwhile, the personal spaceflight participants who traveled
to the ISS have returned to deliver an enthusiastic message about
their incredible experiences in orbit. Sure, some may have had a
bout of spacesickness initially but that passed and they went on
to have the greatest times of their lives.
This all bodes well for the space tourism industry. The news will
eventually get out that spaceflight is a marvelous experience and
this will dispel the common myth that a trip to space is an ordeal
meant only to brag about later like climbing Mount Everest. It is
in fact something to be enjoyed for its own sake.
[Update Feb.18.08: Jeff Foust reviews the issue of passenger qualification
for spaceflights: Screening
and training for commercial human spaceflight - The Space Review
- Feb.18.08. He includes the following with respect to a presentation
given by Julia Tizard, operations leader for Virgin Galactic, at
If you were working from scratch and guessing what proportion
of the market that you would think be able to manage a spaceflightin
the specific context of a Virgin Galactic spaceflight, whose G
forces range up to 6 Gs on reentryyou might guess 50 percent,
she said. At VG, were hoping that 80 percent of the people we
had sold tickets to would be able to go through the program.
The results exceeded even Virgins hopes. Of the 70 people tested
at NASTAR, 93 percent made it through the test successfully. Of
the five who did not, she said, two had their training delayed
and one their training curtailed, and only two were unable to
continue at all. That group of people, she said, ranges in age
from 22 to 88, and with varying medical issues, including heart
bypass surgery in the last five years.
As with my previous space stairway prognostications, the point
is not to get individual predictions correct. There are far too
many ways for a private business venture to fail to rely on any
particular one to succeed. Rather, the point is to emphasize the
remarkable fact that the private development of sophisticated and
ambitious spacefaring capabilities is not only feasible but is now
Access to Space
will carry out two to three launches of the Falcon 1 in 2007.
* SpaceX also will begin Falcon 9 booster static fire tests
in early 2007. First launches will occur in 2008. The three
COTS demonstration flights should start by late 2008 or early
Kistler begins test flights of the K-1 vehicle in 2008.
* Lockheed-Martin will announce plans either to develop the
Atlas V for passenger use (see Bigelow
study) or to become a close partner with one of the NewSpace
companies developing an RLV. One or more of the other major
aerospace corporations will follow suit and also partner or
buy out a NewSpace firm. Build businesses based on fees for
Aerospace Ventures (Burt Rutan's firm) will roll out
the SpaceShip 2 and White Knight 2 vehicles in late 2007
and begin test flights in 2008. Virgin Galactic will start
passenger flights in late 2008 or early 2009.
postponed its first commercial passenger suborbital flight
to 2009 due to the effort put into the COTS K-1 project.
Test flights should begin in 2008.
XCOR is working on the Xerus, which carries one passenger,
as funding and time permit. The company has not said much
else but I'm guessing it could fly by 2008.
Blue Origin will fly its unmanned prototypes frequently
(couple of times a month at least) to increasing altitudes
during this period. The company says it aims for commercial
passenger suborbital flights in 2010.
Aerospace will continue its build a little - fly a little
approach, steadily increasing the capability of its VTOL
vehicles. I expect they will reach 100 km before 2009. They
are favorites to win both levels of the Lunar Lander Challenge
at the 2007 X PRIZE Cup.
Systems will do test flights of its VTOL prototypes
in 2007. If they obtain funding, they could have a high
altitude vehicle by 2008.
Rockets has carried out advanced design reviews for
its Michelle vehicle. If funding available, they could fly
Space says they will begin passenger service with Dream
Chaser by 2009. So test flights should begin in 2008.
Suborbital RLVs outside the US:
- Thunderbird development continues towards the goal
of passenger flights in 2009.
- The company has not given a clear picture of its hardware
status but has indicated suborbital flights of its Canadian
Arrow and/or Silver Dart systems could begin during
the 2008-2009 time frame.
Vinci - Tests of its new XF1
vehicle are supposed to start in 2007.
Space - test flights of the full Stabilo vehicle
system will begin in 2007.
- this space tourist vehicle, financed and run by a
collaboration of Russian and American companies, including
Space Adventures, should be flying in the 2008 time
- South Korea
- its LOX/Methane engine has reached an advanced testing
stage. The company has a US partner to design a complete
vehicle but no time table has been released.
Other suborbital projects listed here
may also obtain funding and fly vehicles by 2008.
Lunar Lander Challenges (both levels 1 and 2) will be
won at the X PRIZE Cup in 2007.
AirLaunch LLC places a small payload into orbit on the
first demo flight of its QuickReach vehicle in 2008.
Access to Space
* SpaceX carried out its second Falcon 1 flight in 2007.
The second stage reached space altitude but began to oscillate
due to fuel sloshing and a premature engine shutdown prevented
it from reaching orbit with a dummy payload. Most other subsystems,
however, performed well.
An abort after a brief firing of the first stage engine did
not cancel the launch for the day. Instead, the vehicle flew
just an hour later after refueling. This demonstration of
operational robustness is much more important than the orbital
failure from the fuel sloshing, which can be fixed in a straight
* The Falcon 9/Dragon development program went well in 2007.
Important design reviews were passed and the first test firings
of the first stage took place in the fall in Texas.
* Hardware development of the K-1 was proceeding well but
the firm's failure to achieve its milestone for raising $500M
in private investment led to the termination of its COTS agreement
* There was no announcement of the results of the Bigelow/LM
study. LM did support some of the teams submitting proposals
to the second round of COTS.
Northrop-Grumman bought the other 50% of Scaled Composites
that it did not own. However, this probably had more to do
with Scaled's general technology capabilities than its space
The accident brought propulsion development to a halt.
WK2 work, though, was accelerated. Passenger flight could
begin late 2009 but more likely to be in mid to late 2010.
Serious problems arose with the previous Learjet based design.
In fall 2007 they announced a totally new design based on
their own airframe. They are looking for funding.
XCOR got SBIR Air Force funding for a mid-altitude (200k
feet) vehicle design. The engine for this and the XERUS
will be derived from the engine used for the Rocket Racer,
which began test flights in late 2007. Probably no high
altitude flights till 2009.
Blue flew at least one untethered flight of the Goddard
in 2007. They began construction of a new vehicle. Seem
to be on track for 2010 but the company is very secretive.
Armadillo made significant progress with its vehicles but
suffered a big disappointment when it failed to win either
level of the Lunar Lander Challenge at the XP Cup. Development
of a modular design sets the company on a course to high
altitude flights in 2008.
Tested their first VTOL vehicle in 2007 but it was not
ready in time to compete in the LLC at the XP Cup. Now building
their second prototype.
Began testing a large LOX/JP-8
engine. No word on vehicle development progress.
Switched to a new design. No news on development progress.
- StarChaser continued development of their engine. Expects
to begin test flights in 2009
- PlanetSpace has not released info lately on the status
of its suborbital projects. Currently focused on its COTS
proposal in collaboration with Lockheed Martin and ATK.
- The DA Vinci project seems to have faded away.
- ARCA Space carried out tests of its balloon launch STABILO
system. Expects to test the rocket portion of the system
- No info on the Explorer project.
- Engine tests continued. No word on development of an air
frame for it..
Armadillo was the only competitor in 2007 despite the fact
that 9 teams registered for it. An engine ignition problem
prevented Armadillo from winning. They had carried out the
complete Level 2 sequence in tests in Oklahoma.
AirLaunch won continued funding but a demo flight isn't expected
Aerospace will launch the second Genesis prototype
space habitat module in early 2007. If that is a success,
the company has indicated that it will lay out a more detailed
development plan and schedule for its next generation of space
- The Genesis II launch in June was a success. The company
announced it will skip the intermediate Galaxy module and
instead go straight to launch of the 3-crew capable Sundancer
in 2010. Then the first 6 person BA-330 around 2012.
Bigelow Aerospace will announce by the end of 2008 that
it has a contract with at least one country, and probably
several, for the rental of space and time on on of the company's
space habitats in the 2010-2015 time frame. These will be
countries with no previous human spaceflight programs. Transportation
arrangements for taking these astronauts to the habitats will
be made with commercial space transport companies.
- No announcements made by Bigelow about contracts with
other countries or companies. Bigelow is still trying to
find suitable transport services for access to its orbital
By the end of 2007, I expect that the total number of
people who have placed deposits or paid the full amount for
tickets to fly on suborbital tourist vehicles will be in the
500 to 1000 range.
- Counting Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures, and Rockeplane
there are still somewhere in the 300-400 for the number
of people who have put down deposits for suborbital flights.
Test flights of suborbital spaceflight vehicles will become
a common occurrence during 2008.
- With the delay in the SS2 project and others, it doesn't
look probable at this point that any of the suborbital companies
will be reaching space altitudes this year. Blue Origin,
Armadillo and some others may reach high altitudes (~200k
feet) in 2008.
I expect the first paid passenger flight to 100km will
take place by late 2008 or early 2009.
- Late 2009 looks like the earliest for passenger flights.
In 2008 around a hundred thousand people will attend the
annual X PRIZE Cup to
observe the rocket competitions, exhibitions, and the Rocket
Racing League event.
- About 85 thousand people attended the combination air
show and X PRIZE Cup event in 2007. Not clear how the 2008
event will be organized. Possible that if the Rocket Racing
League can put on at least an exhibition, the event could
draw large crowds.
Racing League will begin demonstration events in 2007
and will increase the number of racing teams to 5 or 6 from
the current three. The racing circuit will be in full swing
in 2008. They will obtain a major sponsor similar to Red Bull's
sponsorship of air
- In the fall of 2007 the RRL announced the addition of
three more teams for a total of 6. This allows it to start
exhibition events in 2008 if TV deals are finalized in time.
Full racing circuit would start in 2009.
Adventures continues to fly one space tourist to
the ISS each year, restricted by the availability of only
one seat per year on the Soyuz flights.
- Charles Simonyi flew in 2007 and Richard Garriott began
training for his 2008 flight. A backup paid $3M to train
More people are in the queue than seats available. The expansion
of the ISS to 6 people means it will be difficult for SA
to obtain seats for its customers after 2008.
Flying small payloads consisting of science experiments,
student projects, memorabilia, etc. on very low cost suborbital
rockets will become increasingly popular. The refurbishable
sounding rocket type of vehicles from companies like UP
Aerospace and Beyond-Earth
Enterprises will dominate until unmanned RLVs with controlled
landings such as the XA-1.0 from Masten
Space Systems begin to fly. The sounding rocket guys will
respond by going to much higher altitudes.
- UP Aerospace had a successful suborbital flight in the
spring of 2007 carrying a diverse assortment of commercial
payloads. In December it flew a low altitude flight for
a commercial customer. B-E and Masten continued development
of new vehicles.
More support services and products for space tourism and
NewSpace activities begin to appear. For example, training
facilities for pilots and support staff for space tourist
vehicles will begin to open.
- The NASTAR
Center began providing training for Virgin Galactic
ticket holders. Orbital Outfitters unveiled its first spacesuit
for commercial operators.
starts to operate in several cities and also finally gets
a contract with NASA to provide flights to carry out astronaut
training, microgravity research, etc.
- ZERO-G began operating out of Las Vegas in addition to
its KSC operation. The contract
with NASA was approved at the start of 2008.
American Express ad in Popular Science - Feb.08. (The test actually
took place elsewhere and was photoshopped in front of the hangar.)
In late 2007, XCOR
began testing the first X-Racer vehicle, which will be the standard
vehicle for all of the Rocket
Racing League teams. The vehicle is powered by a LOX/Kerosene
engine built by the company. The engine also uses a piston
fuel pump developed by XCOR.
The company plans to use this engine and its derivatives for its
own high altitude and space
vehicles. As shown here by the close proximity of people during
the firings, the engine is
very reliable and safe.
SpaceX will carry out the first test flight of the Falcon
9/Dragon system in late 2008 or early 2009. It will then complete
by 2010 the three demonstration flights required under the
COTs Phase 1 agreement.
Falcon 1 will successfully carry out its first operational
flight in the spring of 2008 and take several other payloads
to space by the end of 2009.
In late 2008 SpaceX will win a ISS resupply contract starting
The winner of the second round COTS agreements will involve
a team with one of the major aerospace companies supplying
the vehicle. They will fly for the first time in early 2009.
The new administration in 2009 will make major changes to
NASA's exploration architecture. The Ares V will be canceled
and Ares 1/Orion might be as well, though there will be big
political fight over this. If the Falcon 9 flights are successful,
this will undercut support for Ares 1.
Besides Virgin Galactic/Scaled with the SpaceShipTwo, there
will be at least two other companies test flying vehicles
to 100 km by the summer of 2009. I expect Blue Origin and
XCOR to be among these companies.
In the first year of operation, starting late 2009 or early
Galactic and other suborbital space tourist companies
will take in ~$30M to $50M in revenue by flying a few hundred
space tourists. There will be steady growth in revenue and
the number of passengers in subsequent years.
Other suborbital markets such as science and educational
payloads and high altitude photography will also grow.
EADS begins development of its rocketplane by 2009. At least
one of the other large mainstream aerospace companies announces
plans to develop a low cost space transport system to go after
space tourism, and the Bigelow habitats markets.
There will be winners in both the Lunar Lander and Beamed
Power Centennial Challenges in 2008.
competition for point-to-point spaceflight demonstration between
Virginia and Europe opens in 2009 with a four year time limit.
At least one, maybe two, Google
Lunar X Prize competitors will make an attempt to land
a rover on the Moon in July 2009 to commemorate the 40th anniversary
of the Apollo 11 landing. The prize will be won by either
one of these teams or by another before the contest deadline
The German led AMSAT
P5A mission will send a spacecraft in orbit around Mars
in 2009. (See also Go-Mars.de)
Bigelow announces agreements in 2008 with at least one company
to provide a set of flights to the company's space habitats
starting in the 2010-2011 time frame.
Services space burial service expands its business significantly
as more commercial flights become available to it.
Racing League begins exhibitions in 2008 and starts the
racing circuit in late 2008 or early 2009.
Outfitters completes development of its first generation
of spacesuits for commercial spaceflight operations and begins
to sell/lease them to the companies.
The development of commercial spaceports in New Mexico, Virginia
and Sweden get well underway by 2009.
In late 2010, the Falcon 9/Dragon makes its first cargo flight
to the ISS. Crew operations begin by late 2011.
Bigelow begins design work on an earth orbit to lunar transport
vehicle - the Nautilus Moon Cruiser - based on its
inflatable structures technology.
First flight of the
Air Launch LLC low cost Quickreach vehicle in 2010. A
version of the vehicle is developed to fly with the White
Knight Two for delivering small payloads to orbit.
One or more of the suborbital RLV developers will start launching
small expendable second stages to take small payloads to orbit
by late 2010.
By 2010 Armadillo gets a small payload to space using its
modular vehicle system.
In 2010 Bigelow
Aerospace launches the Sundancer
space habitat, which can hold a crew of three.
Satellite Services launches the first comsat rescue mission
A 3 person crew is delivered to the Bigelow Sundancer module
by the end of 2011 by SpaceX.
Inspired by the success of the commercial space companies
and the falling price of access to LEO, several wealthy associations
and private organizations of diverse ideologies and philosophies
come into being with the goal of building a large scale habitat
in orbit or on the Moon with hundreds of residents by 2025.
A private firm lands a rover on one of the lunar poles and
begins exploration for ice deposits and sells access to real-time
video to on line users.
One or more of the suborbital RLV developers such as Blue
Origin successfully launches a fully reusable two-stage
system capable of taking a crew of two and/or a small payload
to orbit. The time and effort involved in the return and preparation
for the next flight approach that of "refuel-and-fly"
operations for airliners.
A wealthy country without a space program of its own, announces
plans to use the CSI
Lunar Express method to fly two of its citizens around
the Moon by 2015.
US Air Force announces plans to discontinue use of the EELVs
(Delta IV and Atlas V) in favor of much lower cost commercial
space transport services from companies like SpaceX.
is won by 2013.
The large Bigelow BA-330
module is delivered to orbit. Bigelow begins to rent out
time and module space to various countries that have formed
new human spaceflight programs. Astronauts from these countries
are delivered to the Bigelow modules via commercial space
NASA finally agrees to the first pure data
purchase contract for a science mission. This will involve
a company like SpaceDev,
that builds and flies a spacecraft on its own to carry out
a science mission such as prospecting
a near earth asteroid. NASA will simply pay for the data
returned and will have no involvement with the details of
the spacecraft or how the mission is carried out.
By 2015, Bigelow has 3
complexes in orbit, each consisting of at least two of
the big BA-330 modules. Long term contracts with one, possibly
two, launch companies, provides for a flight with crew, passengers,
and cargo to each station at least once a month.
Orbital tourism expands significantly when trips to the Bigelow
Aerospace space hotel become available via commercial
services that offer transport ticket prices in the $2M-$4M
Several thousand people per year are flying on suborbital
spaceflights. Prices have dropped to a few tens of thousand
of dollars range.
Suborbital spaceflight systems will have achieved a reputation
as highly reliable and safe.
A private company establishes an orbiting fuel depot adjacent
to a Bigelow space habitat. Cargo flights from earth bring
fuel to the depot, which in turn supplies fuel to various
orbiting spacecraft and Earth-to-Moon transports. A crew maintains
the depot and monitors propellant transfers. The site becomes
essentially the first commercial space settlement.
A private consortium funds construction of a Nautilus Moon
Cruiser for a lunar fly-around service.
A private group also announces plans to pursue a private
human mission to the surface of the Moon.
The Bigelow module complexes begin to form the nuclei of
genuine long term space settlements.
Increasing amounts of material shielding (e.g. via water
and fuel tanks plus surplus equipment) provide sufficient
radiation protection for safe, long term residence.
Although the early habitats will probably not rotate to provide
spin gravity, centrifuge systems (like the circular
track in the 2001 Discovery vehicle) allows for extended
exercise at a high fraction of a G to prevent microgravity
An "in-space" economy begins to develop as people
pursue specialized jobs such as repair services, retail sales,
and food production from greenhouse gardening (as in the successful
Antarctic base model).
Individuals involved in the production of high value, "zero-mass"
products, such as software and financial analysis, that can
be sold back to earth begin to live and work on the complexes
and eventually start to call them home.
Some non-zero mass products made on the private space stations,
such as exotic glass and metallic artworks, begin selling