Report on the 1st FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference
Payloads, Launch Capacity Discussed
by Sam Coniglio
Keynote Speaker 1: Patricia Smith, Department of Transportation (DOT)/Office of Commercial Space Transportation (OCST)
In 1997, the OCST had licensed 31 launches and 2 spaceports. They have have licensed a third (Virginia) in 1998 and expect to license a fourth (Alaska). 1997 saw the inaugural commercial launch of the Athena (a renamed Lockheed LLV) from Spaceport Florida. Ms. Smith claimed there would be 1700 new satellites by 2010 [based on Teal Group study].
Keynote Speaker 2: Lance Lord, U.S. Air Force Space Command (AFSC)
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has recognized space as a vital national interest and its utilization will increase. He said,"Space is to the information age as oil was to the industrial age." The Warfighter 2010 (wargame scenario) is heavily dependent on space -- a smaller force must have access to space surveillance, warning, communications, and other information. A second wave of civil Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) applications is also planned. All of these plans need reliable robust access to space.
Reusable Launch Vehicle ( RLV) Panel
The RLV has grown from a single concept (the space shuttle) to over 30 concepts today. Pioneer Rocketplane, Rotary Rocket Company, Kelly Space & Technology, and Kistler Aerospace presented their concepts. Mr. Brandenstein (Kistler VP) claims that when they first started, they spent 75% of their presentations to investors convincing them that there was a market, and now they skip it because the investors now know there's a market. Pioneer noted that it was much easier to talk to Wall Street now than it was a year ago.
21st Century Space Panel
Looking to the future, Ray Johnson of the Aerospace Corporation spoke about a market study for NASA. The consulting firm identified 76 new potential space applications and conducted 52 technical assessments. They developed a "Space Transportation Economics Index" for measuring potential of new concepts. Note that today we are launching 1 million pounds of payload into space. That weight would be 50 million if the new applications came to be. Of that, 42 million require a 100x reduction in launch cost. Mr. Johnson noted that today's cost is 20,000 lbs to Low Earth Orbit ( LEO) at $5000/pound. The best you can do today is $4000/lb, so a 10x reduction would be $400/lb. Mr. Johnson also noted that if the Apollo program was done today, the cost would be roughly comparable to what it would cost today to begin space colonies and mining. However, there is no single compelling application that would draw the investment needed to achieve a 100x reduction, so the industry will continue to slowly evolve rather than realize a quantum leap. He states that Lockheed Martin Venture Star vehicle is projecting a $5-6 Billion cost... there is no market to justify that. He claims NASA has accepted that fact but Mr. Daniel Goldin hasn't. The message is that commercial companies need to secure investment with a good business plan; but NASA should help with the assessments.
Shubber Ali, KPMG Peat Marwick, claims the space investment IRR benchmark is 30-40% pre-tax. He had a good chart showing costs per pound for various vehicles and how it is trending (see proceedings). He noted that the EELV target is 25% below current prices. There are two possible scenarios:
Mr. Ali noted the barriers to development. More launchers are needed, more launch slots and spaceports are needed.ǁAlso, we need to educate the financial markets. Wall Street does not understand space. It is just starting to understand the space telecommunications market ("they originally sent Iridium packing"). But that's communications, a well-understood market outside of the space context. Wall Street really doesn't understand the new, breaking applications.
One of the FAA moderators noted that the space transportation group is looking at how to integrate commercial space operations with the air traffic control system.
International Market Panel
Brett Alexander of AST completed a market study. He stated that in 1997 there was 8 Iridium launches and 1 Orbcomm launch. There will be 400 more in the next 4 years for little LEOs.
Mr. Alexander said that international ventures that are beginning to form: if companies are going to the expense to form such ventures, they must see serious business opportunity in commercial space.
Greg Gilmore of International Launch Services (ILS) noted they have 51 committed missions. The maximum capacity is 10 on the Atlas (CCAS) and 8 on the Proton(Baikonour) per year, plus one at VAFB. The Atlas 2AR will have its first flight in December 1998: it is a higher performance, 4000 kg to Geostationary Orbit (GTO) vehicle. The new Proton D1E is in development and will fly in late 98. It will lift 5 metric tons to LEO. The Athena lifts 2 metric tons to LEO.
Annual launch capacity:
Mr. Gilmore claims the commercial space market doubles or triples every 5 years:
With an ever-increasing demand for telephone systems and a growing demand for networking and data communications, the launch market will continue to grow. 85% of the planet's population does not have telephone access, but there is an 11% annual growth in the population with telephone-access.
Mr Gilmore claimed COMSTAC has projected a medium launch demand of 30/year in 1998, including 13 LEO launches. He expects demand to stabilize at 10, but he thinks it could be twice that. There are 180 operational LEO satellites in operations today and will be 450 by 2010, even if you take into account the increasing capacity of each. The trend is for satellites to get bigger. Increased bandwidth is essential as the move to digital wireless communication increases.
The key business consideration in this market is manifest management. You need to accommodate late arrivals, weather delays, etc. Arianne later noted that timely payload delivery is a critical factor.
Doug Heydon, President of Arianespace, had several good charts showing business trends, spacecraft size growth, constellations increasing in number and importance. Ariane 4 has a 96% success rate and an annual capacity of 12 missions. Ariane 5, which is 1 for 2, will have its next qualification flight 07/15/98 and first commercial launch later this year. It will lift 6-7 tonnes to GTO, 18 to LEO. Capacity will be 5-6/year, 10 in 2002, and 14 in 2004. [18 metric tons = 40,000 lbs]
Marshall Kaplan of Launchspace Magazine has also done a study. He predicts the market for launch services will double or triple in 3 years (see tables in current issue of ISIR). He sets the supply level at 80% of total worldwide capacity (it's less than 100 because of down time, failures, etc). Predicts that by 2002-2005, supply will outstrip demand and only those with very competitive prices will still be flying.
Marc Nance of Sea Launch indicated the first Sea Launch flight will be in the Fall of 1998. They anticipate a capacity of 6-7 launches per year; 5000 kg will go to GTO. They have 18 launches committed from Hughes and SS/Loral. They will have a spacecraft processing facility at Long Beach.
Beyond the Telecommunication Era Panel
A scientist from Futron Corp. spoke about space power generation. NASA and DOE have developed the technology to capture energy 24 hours a day, but the problem is launch costs.
John Mankins, Director of NASA's advanced program office in the office of space flight pointed out the risk of telecommunications, government, and science payloads not being sufficient to drive a continuously growing space transportation industry. He also suggested space power as the next big application, but his studies show the satellites would be enormous, about the size of the space station, so it would have to be built in orbit, and launch costs would be a big factor. Tom Rogers, President of the Space Transportation Association, reported there is money in the federal budget for space power applications.
Other Perspectives Panel
The last panel included people outside the traditional launcher community.
Brenda Foreman talked about Helium3 mining on the moon should fusion ever come to be a reality. Her general theme was that power/energy could be the next big application beyond telecommunications. She also pointed out that at some point the telecommunication satellites in orbit today will not support further growth in bandwidth demand. New ways to share spectrum, allocated bandwidth, and conserve bandwidth all will require new satellites to replace the old ones. No matter what we predict, the future will prove us wrong, she said. The panel expressed an interest in receiving input from companies on industry standards.