Here is the John Gedmark interview by Sander Olson. Mr. Gedmark is the Executive Director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which is dedicated to promoting commercial spaceflight. Recent events indicate that the commercial spaceflight industry may soon reach critical mass and become a self-sustaining industry. Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two recently completed its second glide flight, and NASA has agreed to purchase data gathered from Lunar X prize robotic missions to the moon. New Mexico recently opened “spaceport America” a major spaceport capable of launching and servicing a variety of space vehicles
Question: The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is one of the few organizations promoting commercial spaceflight. How does the organization operate?
Answer: The CSF was founded about five years ago to encourage the growth of the commercial spaceflight industry in the U.S. It is based in Washington, DC, and we currently have over 30 member companies ranging from Virgin Galactic and United Launch Alliance to Bigelow Aerospace and SpaceX. Our goals are to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight, pursue ever higher levels of safety, and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry.
Question: The Obama administration has recently outlined a plan that calls for fundamental changes to the way NASA operates. What is the CSFs assessment of these proposed changes?
Answer: We strongly support the Administration’s proposal to tap the potential of the commercial space industry for transportation of crew to Low Earth Orbit and the International Space Station. By doing so, NASA can focus its own resources on deep space exploration, beyond Earth orbit. The shuttle fleet is retiring within the next year, so it is imperative that we quickly develop domestic means for Low Earth Orbit crew transport.
Question: What are the specifics of Obama’s proposal?
Answer: While the President’s proposed NASA budget has many elements, the portion dealing with commercial spaceflight calls for a $6 billion Commercial Crew Program, which would enable multiple companies, both newer entrepreneurial firms and established firms, to develop the capability to carry crew to Low Earth Orbit. NASA would select multiple winners to harness the power of competition in producing the best value for the taxpayer.
Question: Can’t Russia’s Soyuz rocket meet all LEO requirements?
Answer: Policymakers have decided that it is in our strategic interest to have a domestic capability for transportation to space. By growing a commercial space industry, we can reduce our reliance on Russia and increase the robustness of access to space with a multiple-vehicle approach.
Question: Why have the Russians have recently raised the price for a seat on their Soyuz from $20 million to $35 million?
Answer: With the Space Shuttle retiring, the Soyuz is the only short-term option for access to the Space Station. Indeed, one might describe the upcoming situation as a monopoly by Russia. This can lead to price increases. In fact, this is one of the reasons that establishing a commercial U.S. space industry is so important, so that we can foster a competitive marketplace.
Question: Under Obama’s proposal, what U.S. rockets will be used?
Answer: The Commercial Crew program will select multiple winners, and so a variety of launch vehicles will likely be employed. Two candidates include the SpaceX Falcon 9 and the United Launch Alliance Atlas V. The Atlas V has had over 21 successful launches and often flies mission-critical Department of Defense payloads. The Falcon 9 had a successful inaugural launch in June 2010, and is designed to loft the Dragon capsule into orbit.
Question: Dragon is SpaceX’s reusable manned spacecraft?
Answer: Yes, SpaceX and Dragon have been chosen by NASA to resupply the space station under the COTS and CRS programs. The eventual goal is for Dragon to carry crew to the Space Station, in addition to cargo. Dragon can also serve as a free-floating science platform as well, called DragonLab.
Question: What will happen to NASA’s Ares V heavy lift rocket?
Answer: That is still being determined by the Congressional policy process. The specifics of NASA’s next launch vehicle development is not yet determined, so we will have to stay tuned.
Question: Is the Ares V necessary for anything?
Answer: While the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, as an organization, is focused on commercial spaceflight, we support NASA’s exploration efforts beyond Low Earth Orbit and the development of vehicles dedicated for this purposes.
Question: Are there any new technologies that are being developed that could greatly reduce the cost of getting into space?
Answer: Reusability is the key innovation that is needed to reduce the cost of access to space over the long term, but the aerospace industry is constantly innovating so perhaps there are other breakthroughs we will discover as well. It’s important to note that other factors, such as economies of scale, the forces of competition, and the use of fixed-price incentives, are also important for reducing the cost of access to space. Other innovations include the use of propellant depots to reduce the size of the heavy-lift launch vehicles needed for exploration missions, thereby saving on development costs.
Question: Are any larger corporations getting into the orbital spacecraft business?
Answer: Yes. In just one example, as the New York Times recently featured in a front page story, Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace have teamed up to develop a capsule called the CST-100. It is designed to put 7 people in orbit, and would become operational by mid-decade. NASA has provided $18 million to Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace to begin initial development under the CCDev program, which is a precursor to the full Commercial Crew Program.
Question: Some have argued that Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) rocket planes have the potential of offering the lowest cost to orbit, because they are fully reusable. Do you agree?
Answer: Reusability is a key attribute of future rocket systems to lowering the cost of access to space over the long term. However since the Commercial Spaceflight Federation is a diverse group of over 30 companies we don’t get into the different trade-offs of specific technologies.
Question: Both Russia and China launch humans into orbit. Could they threaten the U.S. commercial space market?
Answer: Those vehicles are government-led projects, so they are quite different from many of the commercial space programs underway here in the United States. The United States should be proud that its economic strength and innovation is allowing multiple private companies to develop space-faring capabilities.
Question: What sort of progress can we reasonably expect from the commercial space industry during the next decade?
Answer: You’ll see progress on multiple fronts, including suborbital missions, orbital flight, spaceports, and orbital space facilities. A partnership between NASA and commercial industry will be mutually beneficial, and I think you’ll see that partnership grow. Within this decade, the commercial space arena will grow to include regular suborbital and orbital flights of private individuals, orbital space facilities such as Bigelow Aerospace is developing, and a growing network of spaceports here on Earth. It will be a very exciting time for commercial spaceflight.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
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