During December of 2001, former rocket entrepreneur Andrew Beal (of Beal Bank) took out a full-page ad in Space News entitled "Remember Beal Aerospace?". As you probably know, he had previously invested $200 million of his own dollars in his entrepreneurial launch venture. Why did he have to actually pay just to get such seemingly important info prominently published in the space-related media, though?
Remember Beal Aerospace?
It is unfortunate that I
continue to read ill-informed comments about the reasons for our demise (Space
News 11-12-2001, page 24). The real damage from these commentaries
is that they mask the real issues and instill a sense that only NASA and
DOD funded efforts can succeed. Our program would have resulted in
a well-conceived, technically absolutely achievable, large lower cost launch
vehicle. Our plan always included an ultimate evolution to re-usable
first and second stages. We correctly targeted the alive and well
geo-stationary market and additionally hoped for some space station resupply
missions. We were naively lured into business by NASA's constant remarks
about wanting to encourage privatization and new launch service providers.
When Congress and NASA targeted $10 billion to fund competing launch systems, we threw in the towel. We simply could not compete with such government funded boondoggles.
NASA has apparently fooled
Congress into thinking that significant new technology must be developed
by the government funded aerospace community to achieve reliable low cost
access to space. Congress responded with a $10 billion projected program
for the next 10 years. The fact is that no new technology is required.
Current technology can be used to build a low cost 2-stage reusable
launch vehicle that meets all of NASA's needs. Yes it would be great
to have more sophisticated fully reusable TPS systems and new airbreathing
hypersonic propulsion systems, but these are not required to achieve low
cost reusable access to space. Furthermore, their technology development
should cost a fraction of $10 billion. NASA's real goal is the subsidized
development of a space shuttle replacement that will be privately operated
and available for commercial use (read: direct competition for any launch
service provider). While this may be a worthy goal, it kills the prospects
for start ups like Beal Aerospace. We suggested NASA and Congress
make a commitment not to compete with efforts like ours.
Asking NASA to develop low cost space access is analogous to asking Amtrak to develop new low cost locomotives, or the U.S. postal service to develop new low cost electronic mail systems. Let's all be thankful that Congress didn't fund NASA to develop low cost personal computers to compete with Dell and Compaq, and new low cost operating software to compete with Microsoft. With enough money, NASA will always succeed. The consequences of NASA's success would be that Microsoft and Windows would not exist and some clunky NASA software package written by IBM would be the industry standard.
Incidentally, I was appalled that former NASA engineer Dennis Tito had to pay a foreign country to access the ISS. Let's all be thankful that Congress never funded NASA to develop the automobile. If it had, I suspect that the use of these dangerous vehicles would be restricted to "autonauts" and we common citizens would revel that these highly trained "autonauts" could operate these incredible high performance automobile machines.
I am sure that many will be offended by this letter. I expect an onslaught of opinions about how we could not possibly have succeeded and how only NASA and its contractors can build good rockets. Assertions that we closed our doors because of technical challenges or diminished demand are absurd. The fact is, there is plenty of business for a reliable low-cost system. Low efficiency (but low cost) rockets are relatively easy to build and we would have demonstrated that.
NASA has changed the evolutionary
process for new companies and tilted the playing field against private efforts.
As a result there is no role for new launch service companies except
as commodity subcontractors to NASA and its primes.
EDITOR'S COMMENTARY: Venture capitalists reviewing the business proposals of launch ventures basically have to perform their "due diligence" inquiries by contacting NASA officials to get their opinion. Interestingly enough, such new potential ventures would compete with well-established launch companies that incidentally lobby in favor of NASA's pork-laden programs. Such established companies also have the resources to offer NASA bureaucrats well-cushioned positions in the private sector like the one former Administrator Dan Goldin now seeks. Consequently, considering how so many new companies fail in just about any industry, how favorably do you think any NASA official will recommend such a new venture to venture capitalists? Do you know many people at NASA who are willing to risk biting the hand that feeds them?
To visit the page maintaining Andrew Beal's parting words after NASA's Space Launch Initiative was funded by Congress, please click here.
Meanwhile, the U.S.A.'s marketshare of the global launch industry has declined sharply over the past 15 years. For recent statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, please click here.
NASA promptly responded by doing what some critics
are at least silently claiming is paying for companies' silence on the matter.
Below is a conveniently timed subsequent press release regarding NASA's
brand new awarding of another round of Space Launch Initiative program (SLIp)
contracts. None of those companies are going to "rock the boat"
now. Meanwhile, SLIp is reportedly arranged to be able to offer additional
companies money at any time. Such a prospect prompts such entities'
directors to try to stifle expressions of dissatisfaction with NASA, because
the excessive bureaucracy plaguing the industry practically requires
that they feed themselves from the federal trough, if at all.
Anyhow, which [if any] popular space media outlets decided to write about the allegedly peculiar and certainly expeditious timing of NASA's latest round of manipulative SLIp awards? To our knowledge, none did.
Dec. 17, 2001
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
NASA AWARDS MORE THAN $94 MILLION TO ADVANCE NEXT GENERATION SPACE TRANSPORTATION EFFORT
NASA today announced an additional $94.6 million in contract awards to advance the agency's Space Launch Initiative (SLI) -- a research and development effort to develop the technologies needed to build a second-generation reusable launch vehicle, as well as to design vehicle architectures for 21st century missions.
These awards represent the final round of competitive selections under cycle one of the NASA Research Announcement (NRA) for NASA's Space Launch Initiative issued in October 2000.
NASA's Space Launch Initiative made its first round of contract awards -- valued at $791 million -- in May to 22 prime contractors. A new round of competitive proposals should be received in March 2002 under cycle two of the NASA Research Announcement.
Today, NASA selected Northrop Grumman in El Segundo, Calif., and Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., to receive a combined increase of $20.7 million. The two companies will team to provide systems engineering and architecture definition for NASA's Second Generation Reusable Launch Vehicle program, which manages the SLI, laying groundwork for greater access to space for civil exploration, as well as potential defense and commercial applications.
Of the new award, Northrop Grumman will receive $15.7 million and Orbital Sciences Corp. will receive $4.9 million. The two contracts hold a renewal option upon successful completion of a review in March 2002.
An additional award of $5.4 million is being made to the Boeing Company in Seal Beach, Calif., to initiate studies in crew-survivability and crew-escape systems technologies, a project unique to NASA. A primary goal of SLI is to reduce the risk of space travel -- making flight much safer than today's reusable launch system.
Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power, a division of the Boeing Company, located in Canoga Park, Calif., and TRW in Redondo Beach, Calif., have also been awarded options for existing contracts for potential continued work on advanced propulsion systems. Rocketdyne could receive an additional $63.0 million; TRW could receive $5.4 million.
The activities initiated by these awards are not intended to provide a specific vehicle design, but are the first step in developing a set of alternative technologies for a new generation of launch systems and associated space transportation operations. These evolutionary technologies include crew survival systems, advanced tanks and airframe structures, long-life rocket engines and robust thermal protection systems.
The SLI investment is expected to pay off with full-scale spacecraft development options around mid-decade. NASA is investing money and other resources in technical and business studies, hardware development, and laboratory and flight tests that will lower the risk of developing a second- generation reusable launch vehicle.
"Right now we are bringing together teams of experts who can help us expand from our baseline. We need to make sure we identify areas that merit additional research and development and pursue those," said Dennis Smith, manager of NASA's Second Generation Reusable Launch Vehicle program. "Improving access to space is an ambitious goal and we take it seriously. Sharply reducing the cost of getting payloads into orbit is the key to our future in space and to U.S. economic competitiveness."
The planned budget for the Space Launch Initiative totals $4.8 billion through fiscal year 2006. All NASA's field centers and the Air Force Research Laboratory are actively participating in the Space Launch Initiative. The Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., is NASA's lead center for SLI.
Additional information on NASA's Space Launch Initiative, including a list of the selected contractors, is available on
the Internet at:
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