jump to navigation

You Can’t Fight In Here! This Is The War Room! April 9, 2009

Posted by shubber in economy, finance, gauntlet being dropped, military, public service announcement.
Tags: , , , , , ,
7 comments

strangelove

It seems our friends at the Pentagon have either finally gotten around to watching Die Hard 4.0 or their kids have been twittering long enough that the message (via sheer electronic osmotic pressure) has finally penetrated their cold war mindset.  Either way, there have been many of us on the sidelines who have been trying to point out that another carrier group or silo full of nukes ain’t going to win against our upcoming superpower adversaries…

The Pentagon sponsored a first-of-its-kind war game last month focused not on bullets and bombs — but on how hostile nations might seek to cripple the U.S. economy, a scenario made all the more real by the global financial crisis.

The two-day event near Ft. Meade, Maryland, had all the earmarks of a regular war game. Participants sat along a V-shaped set of desks beneath an enormous wall of video monitors displaying economic data, according to the accounts of three participants.

“It felt a little bit like Dr. Strangelove,” one person who was at the previously undisclosed exercise told POLITICO.

Give the entire article a read – it’s worth it.

Advertisements

So Much For Space Tourism… March 5, 2009

Posted by shubber in finance, gauntlet being dropped, Manned Space, NASA, public service announcement, smack talk, space, space tourism, suborbital tourism.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
6 comments

When Dennis Tito flew to ISS, there was an outpouring of cheering from the alt.space community because the era of space tourism was finally here.  Claims were put forth about how the $10m price tag was only the start, to be followed by a decreasing price that would make space accessible to more and more of the masses over time.

Fast forward a few years, and with the flight of Anousheh, even more of an outpouring of cheering and “this changes things” was heard from the maddening alt.space masses.  This Cynic was blasted by not a few for daring to question what her flight did for the greater “space tourism” movement.  But the thickness of their heads is matched by that of my skin, so no harm done.

While it might be a good time to point out that the Cynics were right, and that the price of trips to ISS would (contrary to the economically challenged arguments of the alt.spacers) continue to rise, as evidenced by the most recent $10m hike in price to Mr. Simoniy, there is a more interesting note that has just come out of Russia.

It appears that the Russian Space Agency has decided it wants no more tourists going to ISS after 2009.  Bummer.

Then again, this could be that much-needed boost to Mr. Bigelow’s efforts to build a space hotel, now that ISS will no longer be a govt subsidized alternative.

</crickets chirping>

I am a Lost Cause February 23, 2009

Posted by Thomas Olson in gauntlet being dropped, hot air, public service announcement, sbsp, smack talk.
15 comments

As a good friend of mine reminded me: “Getting into an argument on the internet is like being in the Special Olympics – you might “win”, but you’re still [developmentally disabled].” I didn’t use the term he did, at the end, out of respect for the fact that my wife has worked with/for the MRDD community for nearly 20 years. But I agree with the sentiment, nonetheless.

About a week or so back, I let myself get into it on Facebook with someone over all the usual canards concerning Space-Based Solar Power. Even after I threw up my hands and walked away, it didn’t end well – I kept getting message after message in my inbox. It was late at night, he was spewing complete nonsense, and I should’ve just let it go.

Early last week found me in Portland, OR, packing up my mom’s recently-sold home. As that “someone” also lived there, I sent him a quick e-mail inviting him to dinner or lunch – largely as a peace offering. Even though we in the “community” may have some serious disagreements, I find we can usually find common ground somewhere, and as we’re rather a small community to begin with, it just made sense to me to extend an olive branch.

That olive branch, a couple days later, was abruptly thrown back in my face by this person, in a tersely-worded missive claiming that his work life takes up most of his time, and he doesn’t have any to waste “arguing” with me. He finished with: “I think you are a lost cause.”

Well, there you are. We’ve just crossed the line from impassioned, reasoned debate and discourse to “religion”. For only the truly devout would use the term “lost cause.” This is a term usually reserved for the damned and doomed. And of course, the proselytizer doesn’t have any time to waste on those he can’t reach – new victims await his message of hope and eternal salvation.

I was angered for awhile – particularly at his incivility. A born Brit should know better. A born Brit should also, simply out of a sense of history, realize that many of those who settled America and Australia in the 19th and early 20th centuries were also considered “lost causes” by those whom they left behind. Convicts, slaves, religious cultists, the politically inconvenient, the oppressed, the starving – “lost causes” all. This would include my own great-grandparents. So we can be a bit sensitive to that term.

Millions of “lost causes” came to North America and Australia, during that period, survived the hardships, and prospered, caring not a whit about the sanctimonious judgments of others. Most of us here today are their descendants.

So in reconsideration of the “space” context, I concluded that I should wear that mantle proudly. Indeed, I am a “lost cause”:

I am a lost cause for anyone who seeks to convince me that railroad-building in the 19th century – with all its political corruption, human misery and business failure – is any kind of model for building space commerce infrastructure in the 21st;

I am a lost cause for anyone seeking to convince me that $200/lb to LEO with conventional rockets is in any way practical or profitable, unless you’re talking about a “new” dollar that’s worth a whole lot more than the ones we’re using now;

I am a lost cause for anyone trying to convince me that SBSP will be of any practical or economic value before at least 50 years have elapsed;

I am a lost cause for anyone trying to convince me that Helium-3 mining on the moon – for fusion reactors that don’t exist – is anything other than a smokescreen;

I am a lost cause for anyone attempting to make me believe that “we” can actually muster enough influence to lobby Congress to give NASA more money, at a time when the TRULY politically-connected and influential are reaping the benefits of bailouts right and left from a hopelessly corrupt DC machine;

And I am definitely a lost cause for anyone making the argument that Walt Anderson is actually “guilty” of anything.

Moral of the story: If you dare to think for yourself – in this or any other context – you are probably someone’s “lost cause” somewhere. Wear it proudly.

When Police Regulate Research Scientists January 11, 2009

Posted by shubber in distracting PR, gauntlet being dropped, hot air, public service announcement, smack talk.
Tags: , ,
3 comments

Taking a brief detour from things space, I present to you this “would be funny if it weren’t so disturbing” bit of legislation that appears destined to get ramrodded through in NY. As the readers of this board tend towards the more scientifically/engineering minded, I thought you might find this worth a read.

NYPD Seeks an Air Monitor Crackdown for New Yorkers

The basic “rationale” is that by preventing private citizens, researchers, etc from monitoring for any sort of hazards (not just anthrax, but even asbestos and other air quality dangers), it “will not lead to excessive false alarms and unwarranted anxiety,” the first draft of the law states.

Want to test for pollution in low-income neighborhoods with high rates of childhood asthma? Gotta ask the cops for permission.

Apparently it originally comes from our friends at Homeland Security, and I suppose NY has been put up as the guinea pig. Not content with trying to convince you that there is a security danger in carrying more than 3 oz of a liquid onto an airplane (as if determined individuals wouldn’t simply put 15 ounces into 5 identical containers, meet up with 4 friends in the terminal and end up with 75 ounces of moonshine on the other side…) and that you should be conditioned to trust $9/hour government rent-a-cops for your safety when the real reason 9/11 was effective is that we WEREN’T EXPECTING THE HIJACKERS TO KILL THEMSELVES AND DESTROY THE PLANE, they are now looking to condition you to yet another bit of “the State knows best”.

Who won the War on Terror(tm) again?  Methinks there’s a smelly guy with a  beard laughing his ass off in a cave right now.  Possibly lacking a pulse and buried under 10000 tons of rubble, but still laughing.

What’s next? A note from his Mom? January 1, 2009

Posted by shubber in Congress, CRATS, distracting PR, gauntlet being dropped, hot air, Manned Space, NASA, public service announcement, smack talk, space, Wasting Money.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
5 comments

mophoto1275-300_

So in honor of our 300th post, i was planning to do a detailed examination of where we’ve been in the past couple years since the Space Cynics blog was started, how the industry has/hasn’t matured, predictions we (and others) have made that have/haven’t come true, etc.

And then I read this little gem.

Seems that Mike Griffin has been fighting pretty hard to keep his job when the new Administration takes over – and now he’s recruited his wife into the mix.  The headline:

Don’t Fire My Husband, NASA Chief’s Wife Begs Obama

Really? Have you no shame, Mike? It’s not like you’ve presided over any great legacy at NASA in your relatively short tenure under President Bush. You are beholden to your special interests in the military industrial complex, and only grudgingly have allowed any form of innovation or private sector involvement to participate in our development of space when forced, kicking and screaming, to adopt Zero G flights over the Vomit Comet or fund COTS – and even then you can’t do it right.

But to send out (via priority mail) copies of your speeches, as if anyone would want to suffer through them a SECOND time, was priceless.  Granted, it’s not like the total cost of mailing was even a rounding error in NASA’s budget – it’s about leadership.  The CEO of an organization, which is what you are for all intents and purposes, sets the tone for the people who choose to work for him.  When you engage in such behavior, it reinforces the wrong sort of message to the rank and file employees – no different than when the President chooses to get a hummer in the Oval Office from an intern and then lie about it on national television.

It’s about Leadership.

You missed great opportunities to engage in development of true CRATS, real hypersonics research, support initial studies into SBSP (yes, even though I am very cynical about it, that IS part of NASA’s job IMHO), and to put nails in the coffins of both VSE and the ISS, freeing up billions of dollars to fund the hardest part of the equation – getting out of the gravity well.

So, perhaps I can weave in a bit of “The 300” after all.   End your tenure with dignity, not sniveling before the next President begging for your job.  Or, even sadder, having your wife beg for you. DO your job, now, and then go out with pride.  If that’s still possible.

They Wish It Were This Easy November 1, 2008

Posted by shubber in distracting PR, gauntlet being dropped, hot air, investment, public service announcement, PYMWYMI, smack talk, solar power, space, Space Solar Power, Wasting Money.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far


Alt.Space – The Thinkers and the Lunatic Fringe October 25, 2008

Posted by shubber in CRATS, gauntlet being dropped, hot air, investment, NASA, public service announcement, smack talk, space, space tourism, suborbital tourism, venture capital, Wasting Money.
add a comment

(this post is from the Old Space Cadet)

On October 13, 2008, The Space Review carried my article The commercial suborbital sounding rocket market: a role for RLVs? http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1228/1 .

This article provoked some interesting commentary (and a lot that wasn’t so interesting). For convenience of the reader, I am reproducing the text of the article below and am then following with some comments and my responses:

The Article:
The commercial suborbital sounding rocket market: a role for RLVs?

by John M. Jurist Monday, October 13, 2008

The current total US market for high altitude sounding rockets with payloads in the 50 to 200 kilogram range and apogees in excess of 100 kilometers is roughly 100 launches annually. At an average of one million dollars charged per launch, one might conclude that a real market exists for RLVs filling this niche.
At present, this market is essentially filled by solid-fuelled ELVs. What is the potential for market entry by a newcomer with the proverbial bright idea conceived in a garage?

The RLV concept
Developing an RLV might look attractive since the vehicle can be reused and operating costs might potentially approach propellant costs per flight. If it isn’t trashed after a few flights, the manufacturing cost can be spread over a number of flights. However, developing an RLV with investment capital for this existing market makes no investment sense.

An accepted rule of thumb for high risk speculative investments is that they should return at least 18 percent annually on capital (Ref. 1). Based on a few startups that have considered this field, a total optimistic investment of perhaps $5 million might result in a workable prototype vehicle. Personally, I believe this figure to be low by some integer multiple, but we will use that development cost anyway. A return of 18 percent would require that at least $900,000 annually return to the investors from the ongoing revenue stream.

Remember that dividends are paid from corporate after tax dollars. If foreign sales are involved, ITAR and other assorted export controls become a potential issue and legal costs for regulatory compliance escalate accordingly.

The estimates given above suggest that the total revenue from the US suborbital sounding rocket market is roughly $100 million annually. At least one RLV startup is offering future flights to 100 kilometers at $250 per kilogram (Ref. 2). A 200-kg payload would result in $50,000 revenues for the flight by this startup. If the entire US market were to be captured at this admittedly attractive price, 100 flights would result in revenues of $5 million annually.

Our required after tax return of $900,000 divides out to $9,000 per flight. We assume that the hypothetical RLV operations involve a full-time team of five employees averaging $75,000 fully burdened annual salaries each (well below market averages), and we might assume $1,000 per flight for propellants. Fixed costs could be converted to a per flight basis by dividing annual costs by 100. Look at the following set of estimated expenses per flight:
RLV flight costs at 100 per year
Area Flight Cost
Investor Profit on sunk R&D $9,000
Federal Corporate Taxes (ignoring NOL carried forward) 12,300
Range and Spaceport Fees 1,000
Launch Insurance 1,000
RLV Operations Staff 3,750
Propellant 1,000
Plant (with utilities) 240
R&D for Future Development 1,000
Lost Vehicle Sinking Fund 500
Support Staff 1,000
Regulatory Compliance 500
Catchall (Including Margin) 28,810
Total Expenses Charged Against Revenues 50,000

If you don’t like my numbers, use your own. Range and spaceport fees are probably wildly underestimated in this table.

Killers in this model include R&D overruns for vehicle development, time to market (which also runs up personnel costs), failure to capture 100 percent of the market, and others. For example, if R&D costs are doubled (most R&D costs more and takes longer than anticipated), the expected minimum investor return jumps by another $9,000 per flight. If market share is only 50 percent rather than 100 percent, revenues per flight are reduced to $25,000, which eats into the “margin” substantially.

The table shown above ignores interest costs, state and local taxes of all types, and numerous other expense categories. The table also seriously underestimates payroll and regulatory compliance costs.
How can we make this work with better odds of success?

Raise prices: Rather than $50,000 per flight, competition might be possible with revenues in the $500,000 per flight range. This is an exercise in price cutting competition against existing suppliers and an established market and is critically sensitive to range and insurance costs.

Increase market size: If one believes in the “build it and they will come” philosophy, the market will increase passively. Otherwise, add a line to the above table for sales and marketing staff and another for advertising. I suspect the academic market, which is largely served by free rides manifested on existing launchers, would not enlarge much unless there are significant increases in space-related research grant funding opportunities.

ELV threat: The shift from liquid-fuelled sounding rockets to solid-fuelled vehicles was driven by at least two factors: legacy engineering from larger tactical missiles or smaller strategic missiles and by the high development cost and finicky nature of pump-fed liquid versus solid systems. At present, an alt.space startup with a largely legacy sounding rocket design is UP Aerospace (Ref. 3). This dropped their upfront development costs to the point where they can afford to enter the market. Another approach for liquid-fuelled ELVs is to use composite propellant tanks that can supply pressure-fed motors and still be low mass compared to similar strength metallic tanks. Avoiding propellant turbopumps reduces the system parts count markedly. Microcosm’s Scorpius Space Launch Company uses this approach (Ref. 4).

A solution
Get others to pay for the R&D. This was partially done by UP Aerospace as mentioned above. This also suggests a role for university-corporate partnerships in which the university side uses specific development topics for educational efforts, such as senior engineering design classes, and gives out academic credit instead of money. The university gets a piece of the corporation for its development foundation in return and rental income on some of its facilities. To some extent, this is the approach used by Garvey Spacecraft Corporation with California State University at Long Beach (Ref. 5) and by Flometrics with the San Diego State University and with the University of California at San Diego (Ref. 6). Interestingly, Garvey has flown a Microcosm composite oxidizer tank (Ref. 7).

Structures to implement a solution
An approach I favor is forming a university consortium analogous to those that design, build, and operate large cooperative research assets, such as telescopes and particle colliders. That consortium could develop a suborbital RLV or even a nanosat launcher to be used by consortium members for academic projects. Since the consortium would design and develop the vehicles, participating universities would be more likely to use them for student research under some type of cost-sharing arrangement with federal granting agencies.

Dr. Steve Harrington proposed something a bit different recently:
If you took all the money invested in alt.space projects in the last 20 years, and invested in one project, it could succeed. More underfunded projects are not what we need. The solution is for an investment and industry group to develop a business plan and get a consortium to build a vehicle. There is a lot of talent, and many people willing to work for reduced wages and invest some of their own company’s capital. Whether it is a sounding rocket, suborbital tourist vehicle or an orbit capable rocket, the final concept and go/no go decision should be made by accountants, not engineers or dreamers (Ref. 8).

I would concur with Dr. Harrington’s final remark except I would expand the decision making group to include management and business experts nominated by the consortium members with whatever technical input they needed.
References

  1. F. Eilingsfeld and D. Schaetzler: The Cost of Capital for Space Tourism Ventures. Proceedings of the 2nd ISST, Daimler-Chrysler GmbH, Berlin, German, 1999.
  2. Masten Space Systems, Inc. web site: http://masten-space.com/, Sept. 29, 2008.
  3. UP Aerospace, Inc. web site: http://www.upaerospace.com/
  4. Microcosm, Inc. web site: http://www.smad.com/ie/ieframessr2.html, Sept. 29, 2008.
  5. Garvey Spacecraft Corporation web site: http://www.garvspace.com/, Sept. 29, 2008 and John Garvey, personal communication, Aug. 13, 2008.
  6. Flometrics web site: http://www.flometrics.com/rockets/index.htm, Sept. 29, 2008.
  7. Garvey Spacecraft Corporation, loc. cit.
  8. Steve Harrington, Space Access Society Annual Meeting, Phoenix, AZ, Mar. 29, 2008.

In his varied and somewhat schizoid career, Dr. John Jurist has variously served as a professor of surgery (orthopedics) at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, as a professor of space science and engineering at the same university; and as a professor of medical sciences, physics, and mechanical and aerospace engineering in the Montana State University system. He is currently Adjunct Professor of Space Studies in the Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at the University of North Dakota. As a lucky entrepreneur, he has invested in a number of small aerospace and related startups, but he is not an investor in any of the corporations mentioned above. He can be reached at JMJSpace@AOL.com.

A comment in RLV News by Bob Steinke:
I’d like to point out one flaw in the sounding rocket article.

Mr. Jurist says that the current market demand is 100 flights per year and figures the hypothetical company’s revenue based on 100 flights per year. But the right way to figure it is that the current demand is $100 million per year.

Most current customers are government and educational institutions that have a certain budget and they are going to spend their entire budget regardless. So even if you assume no demand growth the current customers will spend the same amount and if prices are lower they will buy more flights.

There’s no shortage of scientists who would like to send payloads. The limitation is the budgets of the funding agencies, and you can count on the budgets of government agencies to stay pretty much the same regerdless [sic] of what they get for their money.

So a company that sells flights for $50,000 and captures the entire $100,000,000 per year market could sell 2000 flights.

The bad economy and federal deficits might reduce the current market, or there may be market growth from new customers when prices go down. But if you are going to do an analysis of current markets assuming no demand change you should measure deman [sic] in dollars, not flights.
The Old Space Cadet responds:

Your point is well taken, but I actually divided the postulated total market demand by number of flights to get the per flight revenue. Also, you are assuming that the launch demand is elastic and based on the size of the money pool rather than on the total mass of the payload pool. A company working under that assumption would be betting the farm until and unless the postulated increase in demand was extremely rapid. The assumption that the entire market or some large fraction could be captured is questionable. I did use that assumption in my paper, of course, in order to overstate the case for RLVs. I would also expect that entities such as MARS would respond by flooding the academic launch “market” with surplus solid-fuelled missile motors for use at their facilities. Finally, costs that are firmly tied to flight numbers would reduce the percentage margin as flight numbers increased if the market is fixed in dollars. Thank you for your comment.

An interesting comment in Transterrestrial Musings by David Summers:
Um, some comments on his accounting (or lack thereof) in the section “RLV flight costs at 100 per year”:

  1. Federal Corporate Taxes: 12,300 – note, if you are operating at a loss, there are no taxes…
  2. R&D for Future Development: 1,000 – future development is charged against future profits, not current operations. Treat future stuff like the separate investment that it is.
  3. Catchall (Including Margin): 28,810 – um, look, if half your numbers are in the “other” category, you aren’t presenting any data.

And look – if you subtract out those numbers, the $50,000 cost per flight becomes closer to $8,000… which is pretty darn close to the “required” $9,000 per flight. And, duh, they should raise prices if the presented scenario was even close to correct.

But it isn’t correct – to my knowledge, there is not a $100M market for suborbital flights right now. (see http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ast/media/3Q2008%20Quarterly%20Report.pdIf anything, there are a bunch of people willing to sink $1M of their money in order to fly there own rocket… so not only would this be a dumb idea because capitalism beats a command economy, but it wouldn’t even address anyone’s needs!

The Old Space Cadet responds:

  1. If you are operating at a loss, there are no taxes, but my article assumed an 18% minimum annual return to investors. That return comes from profits and profits are taxable. Dividends are not deductible as a business expense so they are essentially paid from after tax dollars. If the company is operating at a loss, there is no return for investors (unless it is a Subchapter S Corporation passing the losses to the shareholders).
  2. R&D should be charged against future profits for accrual accounting, but suppliers and subcontractors like to be paid for their services. Since the company can’t print money like Barney Frank, Chrisopher Cox, Barack Obama and their ilk, those payments have to come from somewhere – either the net revenue stream, liquid capital, or a line of credit. Given current economic conditions, how would you rank a line of credit as a source of R&D funding? Also, how often have we heard the mantra that revenues from some space-related activity could be used to fund future development – such as orbital tourism from suborbital tourism revenues?
  3. I was wondering if anyone would catch that one. Congratulations. However, remember range fees, integration costs, and insurance. UP Aerospace, using a solid-fuelled expendable sounding rocket that is essentially a legacy design, charges roughly $200K per flight. How that is distributed against range, integration, insurance, and EBITA is not public, but I bet the terms range fees and insurance could account for a lot of that “Catchall” term instead of the $1,000 each I used in my paper. Now consider insurance. The formula presented in the paper: J. M. Jurist, S. Dinkin, D. Livingston: When physics, economics, and reality collide: The challenge of cheap orbital access, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, AIAA-2005-6620 (Sept 05) by Dr. Sam Dinkin (a Ph.D. economist and insurance expert) when coupled with the insurance costs for Falcon-1 released by Elon Musk on a per pound GLOW basis for MPL suggest that a 98 percent reliable RLV would cost roughly $75,000 per flight for risk-based insurance. Oops, there goes the “Catchall” and then some.
  4. You are right about market size. There is not a $100 million suborbital sounding rocket market. It is much less than that. That strengthens my argument about the lack of market capable of recapturing the additional expense of an RLV vs. legacy ELVs. That also reduces margin. The underlying and unstated issue is a narrow academic need. A lot of intangible factors are addressed by such a consortium arrangement.

Thank you for your comments.

A fascinating comment in Transterrestrial Musings by Stephen Fleming:
And we can all eat at Taco Bell forever. Since it’s the only restaurant to survive the Franchise Wars of 2032.

The Old Space Cadet responds: ??

A bizarre comment in Transterrestrial Musings by Adam Greenwood:
Please, all my Great Depression warning lights are blinking anyway . . . and now we have folks talking about the inefficiencies of competition and the need to form industry wide trusts run by experts. AAAAH! What’s next, anti-semitism? Oh, wait.

The Old Space Cadet responds sadly:

This comment needs no response by me.

The other dozen or so comments in Transterrestrial Musings about socialism, socialized medicine, STS, etc.:

The Old Space Cadet responds again:

What does any of this have to do with a proposed university consortium generating a reusable sounding rocket design for academic use? What does it have to do with university corporate partnerships? There are several university consortia on the space payload side, but there isn’t one on the launch side (yet).

Anybody who knows me knows that I am anything but a socialist (especially when socialized medicine comes up for discussion). Are these comments representative of alt.space thinking? If so, I weep for our spacefaring future.

SSP Makes Strange Bedfellows October 18, 2008

Posted by shubber in CRATS, distracting PR, gauntlet being dropped, hot air, public service announcement, sbsp, smack talk, solar power, space, Space Solar Power.
6 comments

It appears that Dr. Zubrin and I agree on something after all…

A recent email exchange between proponents of Space Solar Power (or as we sometime lovingly refer to them: those who gulp from the space kool-aid punch bowl), which focused on the cost of access to space and the apparent closing of the business case when we get launch costs down to $200/kg, led to this sage bit of wisdom from Dr. Zubrin:

The cost of transporting solar panels to Arizona is less than $1/lb.

That is why SSP is total bullshit.

Well said.

We Need More in Congress Like Her September 27, 2008

Posted by shubber in bailout, Congress, finance, gauntlet being dropped.
add a comment

A 5-minute video worth watching

Let’s Play Wall Street Bailout

In Space, Can Anybody Smell the B.S.? September 20, 2008

Posted by oldspacecadet in distracting PR, gauntlet being dropped, hot air, public service announcement, smack talk, space, space tourism, Wasting Money.
39 comments

As a sometime investor in various space-related startups, I troll the web periodically looking for potential opportunities or even just interesting technologies.

In the early afternoon of September 16th, I came across the web site for Masten Space Systems, Inc.: http://masten-space.com/

I know next to nothing about the company other than it is located in Mojave and is working toward the announced goal of developing a reusable sounding rocket with several employees. This vehicle is to use vertical take-off and vertical landing technology for several flights daily according to the web site. I also understand that Masten has made a few tethered flights and is making some progress, which is laudible, and is also looking for potential qualified investors. Since I meet the definition of a qualified investor, I looked a bit more closely at their web site main page:


In case you have trouble reading the text over the image of the Earth, a vehicle, and space, I have copied it below:

What do you want to fly into space?

Masten Space Systems can fly anything you want into space and back for $250/kg:

· Increase your TRL level for NASA

· Build your own mini-Hubble telescope

· Customize your own earth imaging platform

· Test affects of zero gravity on biological systems

· Teach innovative STEM curriculum

· Create winning science fair projects

· Fly dailyheliospheric survey flights

· Find out what happens to … in space

Note the present tense: “… can fly anything you want into space … .” Note that this does not say that they will be able to fly, or that they hope to fly, but instead states that they can fly. As far as I know, Masten Space Systems has never flown anything into space, or even past the troposphere. ”Build your own mini-Hubble telescope.” If some high school student builds a functional “mini-Hubble” and flies it into space, I strongly suspect he or she would be able to win a science fair prize. “Fly daily heliospheric survey flights”? That’s even better.

OK, I’ll bite because I am a science buff as well as an investor. I want to fly a one kilogram passive payload into space twice in 2 days. That is $500. How about the first flight in a week — Friday, September 26th, with the second the following Saturday? Just show me your AST license for commercial sounding rocket flights to 100 km, guarantee the flights to deliver my payload to space, and I will escrow the funds Monday morning for transfer as soon as you certify the delivery to space. I can ship the payload by next day air Monday morning September 22nd.

Look fellows, I know that developing a vehicle is difficult. I know that obtaining funding is difficult. I even know that you appear to have progressed along your plan. However, I also know that putting out BS like this does nothing to maintain interest in investment in space startups. In fact, it is counterproductive and misleading. Vaporware hurt the software industry, and vaporware will not get us to space. Tone it down.