I’m in the Valley today livetweeting the Space Frontier Foundation‘s NewSpace 2010 conference. Check out the exciting agenda or join the discussion on Twitter (#NewSpace2010).

The conference runs all weekend, 8:30-5:30 Pacific time. As readers may know, I’ve been involved with the Foundation since 2005, was chairman 2008-2009 and was just re-elected to its Board of Directors. Here’s the Foundation’s credo:

The Space Frontier Foundation is an organization of people dedicated to opening the Space Frontier to human settlement as rapidly as possible.

Our goals include protecting the Earth’s fragile biosphere and creating a freer and more prosperous life for each generation by using the unlimited energy and material resources of space.

Our purpose is to unleash the power of free enterprise and lead a united humanity permanently into the Solar System.

The livecast video follows below: Continue reading →

Last Thursday I shared my thoughts in two short (<5 min) RussiaToday interviews on on President Obama’s big speech about NASA and his long-overdue cancellation of NASA’s white elephant known as “Ares I” rocket. (See Jeff Foust’s analysis here and here.) I was sorry to see the Administration decide to preserve the Orion capsule as a lifeboat for the International Space Station, but as I indicate below, I can’t really blame them for feeling they had to “throw a bone” to the Congressional lions defending that program and the jobs it created (using tax dollars that killed far more jobs, of course—a classic “seen v. unseen” problem).

But as I note below, the far more important good news is that, if Obama gets his way, NASA would finally buy crew launch services to ISS and for future deep space missions from the private sector (expanding its limited COTS program) instead of building its own rockets and capsule for this purpose. This decision is easily single best thing the Administration has done thus far. They have a tough fight ahead with the few members of Congress who actually care about this—who just so happen to be the ones whose districts will face job cuts when dead-end, wasteful make-work programs are canceled. The irony here is just too thick: Many of the same kinds of folks who’ve been decrying Obama as a socialist (not unjustly, in my opinion) now attack him on nationalist grounds for trying to turn part of our ultra-socialist space program over to the private sector.

Here’s another clip: Continue reading →

Originally published in Space News on January 11, 2010

In December, Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, only the third sitting U.S. president to win—and the fourth ever. The award was announced before Obama had finished eight months in office. Indeed, the February Feb. 1, 2009, nomination deadline passed just 13 days after his inauguration.

Was there something we missed in that brief span that could match Woodrow Wilson’s presiding over the settlement of World War I, or the founding of the League of Nations? Or Teddy Roosevelt’s opening of the International Court of Arbitration and ending Japan’s bloody 1905 war with Russia? Or Jimmy Carter’s three decades of peace-making and development work? Has Obama already done more to abolish nuclear weapons than President Ronald Reagan, whose anti-nuclear crusade and actual warhead reductions were never celebrated with a Peace Prize?

There is another president who should have received the Prize long ago for stabilizing a world teetering on the brink of nuclear war. After leading Allied forces to victory over Nazi Germany, Dwight D. Eisenhower negotiated a cease-fire to Harry Truman’s war in Korea, resisted calls for American intervention in Vietnam, and single-handedly defused the 1956 Suez Crisis. His warnings about the “military-industrial complex” did more to check the growth of the national security state than all past or future peace marches combined.

But only recently has Eisenhower’s greatest achievement become clear: ensuring the right to peaceful uses of outer space.

Just as maritime commerce has thrived on “freedom of the high seas” for centuries, “freedom of space” has allowed the development of a $200 billion satellite industry that has interconnected the globe in a web of voice, video and data, and provided critical weather and climate monitoring. By ensuring that nations cannot block access to space with territorial claims, international law has prevented governments from stifling the birth of a truly spacefaring civilization. Continue reading →

by James Dunstan & Berin Szoka* (PDF)
Originally published in on December 17, 2009

As world leaders meet in Copenhagen to consider drastic carbon emission restrictions that could require large-scale de-industrialization, experts gathered last week just outside Washington, D.C. to discuss another environmental problem:  Space junk.[1] Unlike with climate change, there’s no difference of scientific opinion about this problem—orbital debris counts increased 13% in 2009 alone, with the catalog of tracked objects swelling to 20,000, and estimates of over 300,000 objects in total; most too small to see and all racing around the Earth at over 17,500 miles per hour.  Those are speeding bullets, some the size of school buses, and all capable of knocking out a satellite or manned vehicle.

At stake are much more than the $200 billion a year satellite and launch industries and jobs that depend on them.  Satellites connect the remotest locations in the world; guide us down unfamiliar roads; allow Internet users to view their homes from space; discourage war by making it impossible to hide armies on another country’s borders; are utterly indispensable to American troops in the field; and play a critical role in monitoring climate change and other environmental problems.  Orbital debris could block all these benefits for centuries, and prevent us from developing clean energy sources like space solar power satellites, exploring our Solar System and some day making humanity a multi-planetary civilization capable of surviving true climatic catastrophes.

The engineering wizards who have fueled the Information Revolution through the use of satellites as communications and information-gathering tools also overlooked the pollution they were causing.  They operated under the “Big Sky” theory: Space is so vast, you don’t have to worry about cleaning up after yourself.  They were wrong.  Just last February, two satellites collided for the first time, creating over 1,500 new pieces of junk.   Many experts believe we are nearing the “tipping point” where these collisions will cascade, making many orbits unusable.

But the problem can be solved.  Thus far, governments have simply tried to mandate “mitigation” of debris-creation.  But just as some warn about “runaway warming,” we know that mitigation alone will not solve the debris problem.  The answer lies in “remediation”: removing just five large objects per year could prevent a chain reaction.  If governments attempt to clean up this mess themselves, the cost could run into the trillions—rivaling even some proposed climate change solutions.

Instead, space-faring nations should create an Orbital Debris Removal and Recycling Fund (ODRRF).   Continue reading →

SFF LogoIf you’re interested in supporting the cause of free markets and entrepreneurship in space, now is your chance!  The Space Frontier Foundation (on whose board I sit) is wrapping up their annual fund-raising drive today (12/4) with a 1:1 donation matching program.  More about the Foundation follows below in a letter from our Chairman, Bob Werb.  If you are interested in supporting foundations work, today is the day to make whatever (tax-deductible) donation you can.  Otherwise, you can follow the Foundation or get our  NewSpace News feed on Twitter.

Continue reading →

Space Frontier Foundation Logo NewWashington, D.C. The Space Frontier Foundation today congratulated the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and NASA on their joint discovery of water across the Lunar surface.

“This discovery marks a turning point for humanity’s future in space,” remarked Foundation Director Berin Szoka. “Just as lumber, coal, and oil found in the New World powered America’s development, the precious resource of Lunar water will enable a truly open frontier in space.”

Scientists had previously assumed the Moon was bone-dry except for small concentrations of ice at the poles, but the Indian probe Chandrayaan-1 has confirmed the presence of water throughout the Lunar surface frozen in Lunar soil where it could easily be harvested.

“If we have water we have the core elements needed to support life,” said SFF Founder Rick Tumlinson. “H2O is a magic formula: We can drink it, raise crops with it, or even break it down for oxygen to breathe. We can even recombine the hydrogen and oxygen to make rocket propellant. Confirming the widespread existence of Moonwater means we have a nearby oasis in space around which we can build true human communities beyond the Earth. There will be flowers on the Moon in our lifetimes.”

Since its creation in 1988, the Foundation has advocated using the resources we find in space to enable human exploration and settlement of the frontier-rather than carrying those resources from the Earth’s surface. These include both asteroid/comet materials and Lunar deposits such as those confirmed in today’s announcement.

“Lunar water will be the ‘mother’s milk’ of permanent human settlement not just of the Moon but of the rest of the Solar System,” concluded Szoka. “Finding water on the Moon is the key to opening the Space Frontier: Once you can refuel in space, you can ‘live off the land’ just like the early settlers who opened frontiers on Earth.”

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin used to refer to commercial alternatives to NASA’s Ares rockets as “Paper Rockets,” but commercial vehicles like Atlas V, Delta IV and Falcon 1 are quite real and available today, while Ares 1 and 5 are grossly over-budget and way behind-schedule:

NASA should buy commercial space services whenever possible from NewSpace companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Aerospace. The Commercial Spaceflight Revolution is happening now!

The Space Frontier Foundation, the 20-year old free-market space advocacy organization I chair, released the following press release yesterday:

President-elect Obama’s transition team has published for public comment a white paper entitled Space Solar Power (SSP) – A Solution for Energy Independence & Climate Change. The paper was prepared and submitted by the Space Frontier Foundation and other citizen space advocates, and calls for the new Administration to make development of Space Solar Power a national priority.

The SSP white paper was among the first ten released by the Obama transition team. It is the first and only space-related white paper released by the transition team to date. With 145 comments thus far [now 209], it is already among the top five most-discussed of the 20-some white papers on

Foundation Chairman Berin Szoka called upon all Americans to join the discussion about Space Solar Power at “For over twenty years, the Space Frontier Foundation has championed Space Solar Power as a world-changing technology that could do more to improve life here on Earth than any space program or commercial space venture ever. We applaud the Obama transition team’s interest in developing Space Solar Power as a clean energy source that could significantly reduce U.S. dependence on strategically vulnerable energy sources.”

The Foundation was created in 1988 to advocate for the space industrialization and space settlement ideas of Princeton Physicist Dr. Gerard O’Neill’s Space Studies Institute, including Space Solar Power. The Foundation has testified three times (in 1995, 1997 and 1998) to the U.S. Congress in support of Space Solar Power. In 2000, the Foundation completed a $100,000 project for NASA on Assessment, Outreach, and Future Research of Environmental and Safety Factors related to Space Solar Power. Most recently, the Foundation has sponsored a public discussion to generate input for the National Security Space Office’s SSP study, published in October 2007, which concluded that SSP had “enormous potential.” The Foundation also published comments on that study.

“Harnessing Space Solar Power is a huge challenge,” Szoka concluded. “While we support a national initiative for Space Solar Power, we do not support, nor can the taxpayers afford, another massively expensive ‘White Elephant’ government space program. Only real ‘Change’ in how we pursue national space objectives can make SSP competitive with other energy sources. We believe the private sector will eventually develop SSP-the only questions are how long it takes and which country will lead. The government cannot economically develop SSP on its own, but it can assist the U.S. private sector by funding basic R&D, creating the right investment incentives, and buying SSP for its own needs. Such an unprecedented collaboration between the private and public sectors could build not just another program, but a new, green industry that would create large numbers of high-paying jobs for American citizens. Someday, well into this century, the SSP industry could even turn America into a net energy exporter.” Continue reading →

Who Owns the Moon?

by on December 10, 2008 · 15 comments

My Romanian space lawyer (and improbably-named) friend Virgiliu Pop has made the front page of today in a great interview with leading space journalist Leonard David about his new book Who Owns the Moon?: Extraterrestrial Aspects of Land and Mineral Resources Ownership.  Virgil slams the “Common Heritage of Mankind” socialism behind the 1979 Moon Treaty, which was killed in the U.S. Senate by the free-market space movement, which later gave birth to the Space Frontier Foundation (which I chair).

Virgil once famously claimed ownership of the sun to demonstrate the absurdity of serious assertions made by a number of charlatans to ownership of lunar territory (Dennis Hope) or the entire Eros asteroid (Greg Nemitz).  Virgil’s point was “to show how ridiculous a property rights system in outer space would be if it were to be based solely on claim unsubstantiated by any actual possession.”

I’m looking forward to reading Virgil’s book–and to writing a proper review.  For now, I’ll just say that I think Virgil and I see eye-to-eye on three key premises (something of a rarity among space lawyers on the ultra-contentious issue of property rights):

  1. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibits nations from appropriating territory in space and also prohibits individuals from asserting any territorial claims (generally accepted) except to a narrowly-limited area under actual use (not accepted by all space lawyers).
  2. The Outer Space Treaty, properly understood, does not bar claims to ownership of movable objects such as extracted resources or even (if they can be moved in a meaningful way) entire asteroids or comets.
  3. Securing such property rights is essential to the economic development of space.

Here are a few choice excerpts from Virgil’s new book on the big picture of property rights in space: Continue reading →

The Space Frontier Foundation issued this press release today, following our earlier call for NASA to fund its COTS-D program for demonstrating commercial human spaceflight capabilty.  

The Space Frontier Foundation today called on President-elect Barack Obama to use the innovation and drive of American entrepreneurs to “close the Gap” in U.S. human spaceflight after the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010.

President-elect Obama has promised $2 billion in additional funding for NASA to address the Gap, when the U.S. will be dependent upon Russia’s Soyuz for crew access to the International Space Station.  But two of the options proposed – extending Space Shuttle operations or accelerating the Constellation program – wouldn’t reduce the current estimate of a five year gap by much.

“Space leaders are considering three or four options for reducing the Space Gap, but only one reflects the spirit of positive change that Senator Obama campaigned on,” said Foundation Chairman Berin Szoka.  “According to NASA’s own estimates, flying the Shuttle beyond 2010 will cost at least $2 billion per year, so that only cuts the Gap by one year.  And $2 billion is a drop in the bucket for Constellation, at best helping to address shortfalls that the Congressional Budget Office just predicted will add another 18 months to the Gap.”

A third option is being considered by some at NASA, according to published reports:  Strip the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle of the capability to support Lunar exploration, making it simpler and lighter, and supposedly easier to complete sooner.

“This idea is crazy, because it will strand NASA in low Earth orbit, instead of exploring the solar system,” said Foundation co-founder Rick Tumlinson.  “The whole point of the Vision for Space Exploration was to send NASA’s Lewis & Clarks further out into the frontier, to the Moon, Mars, and near-Earth asteroids, while the private sector takes over Earth orbit.  Cutting Orion back gives us ‘Gemini on steroids’, which would be a change for the worse.”

“The only option that makes sense is to use President-elect Obama’s promised $2 billion to catalyze as many as five new commercial human spaceflight companies that will compete to close the Gap using the safest, most capable and affordable system they can develop,” said Will Watson, Foundation Executive Director.

“Let’s not put all our eggs in one basket by pouring even more money into the Shuttle, an old system that’s on its last legs, or a controversial new program that’s already behind schedule,” Watson said.  “If we’re serious about closing the Gap and about making humanity’s presence in space economically sustainable, we need real change in how we put humans in space.  Let’s use this $2 billion to stimulate multiple entrepreneurial systems that will not only slash costs, improve safety, and close the Gap, but also help create a whole new space industry with new jobs here in America.”