As TLF readers may know, I took over in July as Chairman of the Board of the Space Frontier Foundation.  As I explained in my recent interview on The Space Show, SFF has been the leading citizens’ advocacy group for space commercialization since 1988.  Dedicated to promoting Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill‘s vision of space settlement, as described in his 1976 masterpiece The High Frontier, the Foundation has always argued that “space is a place, not a program.”

We sent out the following press release on October 28, calling for a major transformation of the U.S. government’s space program by which the U.S. government would buy commercial transportation to the International Space Station.  We’ll have more to say about this in the coming weeks.

Space Frontier Foundation Finds Funding Source for COTS-D

The Space Frontier Foundation today called upon Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain to invest the $2 billion in new funds they have promised to NASA for reducing the “Gap” in U.S. human spaceflight (after the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010) to spur innovation and competition in America.

Foundation Chairman Berin Szoka said “It’s time that our national leaders give American entrepreneurs a shot at closing this gap. Let’s take the two billion dollars in the candidates’ plans and fund up to five winners of COTS-D.”

The NASA Authorization Act of 2008, recently signed into law by the President, directs NASA to “issue a notice of intent [by mid-April 2009] … to enter into a funded, competitively awarded Space Act Agreement with two or more commercial entities’ for transporting humans to the ISS”-the “Capability D” of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program (or COTS-D for short). But that directive is not yet funded.

Szoka continued, “Let’s have an American competition in space – to create good jobs, fuel innovation, and close the gap more quickly. With private funds matching government’s investment, we can dramatically leverage the $2 billion to produce breakthroughs in a new American industry – commercial orbital human spaceflight.” Continue reading →

Congress has very wisely cancelled the National Reconnaissance Office’s proposed Broad Area Space-Based Imagery Collection (BASIC) satellite system. The proposal to build two new imaging satellites at a cost to taxpayers of $1.7 billion would have represented a major break from what is possibly the U.S. government’s most successful effort to promote space commercialization to date: buying the imagery it needs from commercial providers, who can also sell imagery to other buyers.

Five years ago, the idea that Internet users could pull up a satellite image of just about any location on the planet at a whim would have seemed ludicrous. Yet that’s precisely what websites like Google Maps and Microsoft’s Live Search offer today—for free! Desktop applications like Microsoft’s Virtual Earth and Google Earth offer even more advanced geospatial tools—again, for free. But of course this library of incredibly rich imagery didn’t just “fall out of the sky,” as they say. It was collected by a handful of expensive commercial remote sensing satellites whose construction was made possible by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency‘s (Wikipedia) extraordinarily successful “Nextview” program implemented under the Commercial Remote Sensing Policy of 2003.  Rather than having the Federal government build its own satellites—and pay for the entire cost of the satatellites—the NGA very wisely chose to buy imagery from commercial providers in two ~$500 million, 4-year contracts with U.S. satellite imagery companies:  DigitalGlobe in 2003 and OrbImage (now GeoEye) in 2004.  

These long-term purchase agreements essentially made the U.S. Government the “anchor tenant” in a new class of remote sensing satellites, providing the initial funding for both companies to build and operate their satellites. But because the companies sell roughly half of imagery to foreign governments and commercial buyers like Google and Microsoft, these deals have saved U.S taxpayers money for the purchase of imagery for a wide variety of needs, ranging from agricultural monitoring to military intelligence. At the same time, the Nextview contracts have given birth to a vibrant geospatial industry whose immediate benefits should be obvious to anyone who’s ever pulled up a satellite map online and whose macroeconomic impact is potentially enormous. 

So why mess with success?   Continue reading →

Space Politics

by on October 9, 2008 · 7 comments

I have a post on space politics at the blog. “If you think Washington politics is restricted to the debates among politicians, think again.”

I’m sure TLFer Berin Szoka knows this better than I do.

Cool SpaceX Video

by on October 6, 2008 · 3 comments

Check it out.

The San Diego Union Tribune has an outstanding summary of the recently-unveiled SpaceShipTwo (SS2) (Wikipedia), successor to SpaceShipOne, which became the first private vehicle to reach space in 2004 and won the $10m Ansari X-Prize.  SS2 is vying to become the world’s first commercially operational spaceplane and the first in Virgin Galactic’s fleet.  Pictured at left is Virgin founder and multi-billionaire Richard Branson, and to his right, Burt Rutan, designer of SS1 and SS2.  The PDF does an excellent job of illustrating the basics of an SS2 flight, though at nearly 9mb, the file isn’t a quick download.

At a press conference this morning at the National Press club in Washington, the Space Solar Alliance for Future Energy (SSAFE) announced a milestone demonstration of the critical technology enabling SBSP:  long-distance, solar-powered wireless power transmission.  The demonstration project, led by NASA veteran John C. Mankins, demonstrated microwave power transmission between two Hawaiian islands 148 kilometers apart, more than the distance from the surface of Earth to the boundary of space.  Although SBSP satellites would ultimately operate at much higher altitudes in the geosynchronous orbit (35,786 km AMSL), Mankins has successfully demonstrated the feasibility of long-distance energy transmission in principle.

Those of you who haven’t “cut the cord” to television (as I did about 5-6 years ago) may be interested to watch a special episode of Discovery Project Earth entitled “Orbital Powerplant) that will debut tonight at 10 pm with reruns on September 13 at 2am and noon.

This video provides more background on SBSP (until recently known as “Space Solar Power”):

Continue reading →

Just as the 505-day XM Sirius antitrust saga comes to a bittersweet end, reports have resurfaced that a new satellite merger may be in the works. Dish Network is floating the idea of merging with competitor DirecTV. Dish Network and DirecTV, the two largest satellite television providers in the U.S., tried to merge back in 2001. Antitrust officials ultimately blocked that merger, concluding that it would hurt competition in television programming. Naturally, a renewed merger attempt would likely encounter similar obstacles, according to industry observers.

This time around, though, the deal may have a better shot of surviving regulatory scrutiny, buoyed by the approval of the XM-Sirius merger. Compared to 2001, competition among video providers is thriving, and there are more alternatives to satellite television than ever before. Many consumers can now choose from a multitude of terrestrial television providers—phone companies are rapidly rolling out IPTV-based video services like FiOS TV and U-Verse, and cable overbuilders like RCN are gaining momentum in densely populated areas.

In addition, a growing number of viewers are shunning traditional television services entirely, turning to a la carte substitutes like the iTunes episode store, Netflix, and Xbox Live Marketplace. With an $8.99 per month subscription to Netflix, it’s possible to stream instantly a video library eclipsing that available on cable or satellite TV. Ad-supported video websites like Hulu and Comedy Central, which offer hundreds of archived TV shows on the Web for free, may soon render the television channel obsolete.

Dish Network’s talk of a potential merger comes on the heels of the company’s first ever quarterly loss of subscribers, and that may just be the tip of an iceberg. Until recently, television subscribers were largely content with watching programs on a predefined schedule, but on-demand services are changing that. As viewers come to expect the ability to watch any show anytime, without bothering to record it in advance, the lack of bidirectionality inherent in Direct-Broadcast Satellite is a glaring deficiency that cable and telecom firms will exploit at every juncture. Unless satellite providers can negotiate arrangements with broadband carriers, or succeed in building wireless networks with newly acquired spectrum, Dish and DirecTV face a bleak future, especially if they are unable to trim costs and enhance content choice.

Continue reading →

Astronaut Candidate, Johnson Space Center/International Space Station:

NASA, the world’s leader in space and aeronautics is always seeking outstanding scientists, engineers, and other talented professionals to carry forward the great discovery process that its mission demands. Creativity. Ambition. Teamwork. A sense of daring. And a probing mind. That’s what it takes to join NASA, one of the best places to work in the Federal Government.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a need for Astronaut Candidates to support the International Space Station (ISS) Program.

Continue reading →