The cost of launching our growing space markets to low earth orbit is excessive.  We cannot be content to grow tiny technologies and launchers in the face of real needs.  NASA is being guided by a congress that is unable to deliver common sense solutions.  Each Space Launch System rocket equals a Navy warship in size and cost.  A warship serves for 30 years and the SLS will not last 30 minutes before burning up.  The old Saturn drained our economy in the 1970s and this new rocket revisits those technologies and costs.  We will have growing demand for launches at a time when we are facing no real solutions.  Who is planning a more economical future for space launch?

Spacex has delivered a few booster recoveries, but has abandoned vertical capsule landings.  Second stage recovery is still being developed.  The personal commitment and investment of Elon Musk has challenged traditional launch providers and pricing.  It remains to be seen if this will be reliable enough to make long-term cost reduction in earth orbit services.  There may still be a valid case for horizontal launch and recovery.  We witness the safe operations of the X-37 over several years as evidence for horizontal recovery from orbit.  Now we may want to consider air-breathing engine economies and booster recovery in future systems.


Several variations are being built now, and they continue to evolve.  We still see low performance lifter aircraft and expendable stages that cut into payloads and reusability.  A few propose to add rocket propulsion or exotic air-breathing engines to the booster.  Exotic solutions make investment risky at best.  There is still a need to increase the payload mass fraction to make these deliver real customer markets.

Exodus Aerospace published an article about possible technologies for horizontal launch.  As a “paper airplane” we examined multiple aerodynamic and propulsion ideas.  Our VISION article may be a “snowball in hell” but it has at least drawn some interest from the aerospace world.


There are still more good and bad ideas out there which we did not know to write about.  There are young innovators and vendors who may not get an audience and still have value to deliver.  I am not a candidate to be the next Elon Musk at 70 years of age.  Not many young people are really able to cover both business and technology either.  Me, I am more likely to be the next Wornout Von Braun.  So what can we do to move innovation to evaluation and manufacturing?


The landscape is littered with broken space companies.  Good ideas and good investments get buried with them along the way.  Without a billionaire that knows both business and technology it is a harsh environment.  Howard Hughes made contributions to aviation, but he was not the only source of hope.  Others brought contributions even without all his wealth.

X SURPRISE: do we carrot all?

The Xprize was a carrot to inspire innovation for space tourism.  The design was to carry 3 people to space but now it sits in a museum.  It might have been hard to get Space Ship One certified for commercial flight, but Space Ship Two is really late now.  Now suborbital operations are looking really lean to investment interests.  We really need to deliver affordable services to low earth orbit.  Customers with big payloads are the real hope for investment.  Bases for mining and colonies are only dreaming until they can get affordable orbital services.


A nation as divided as this needs no more barriers than our elected officials provide.  Services offering to help small teams grow big dreams are often exclusive to the interests of one state.  Wake up people; innovation is everywhere and we cannot all afford to live where you have driven the cost of business and living to stellar limits.  Our ventures are often virtual, even international.  Open your mind or close your wallet, because they will both be empty.

DINKUBATORS: wee wee wee

Oh great, we have experts who want to teach our tech guys how to start and run a business.  Take a clue from Orbital Sciences: even a business student is better at business than an engineer.  A small group of tech guys can deliver small technologies, but they still need a ride to orbit.  Who is working on better launch technologies?  We cannot proceed on wee tiny launchers if you want a big space future.

TECH WRECKS: silly con valley

What works for “tech” may not work for launcher evolution.  Silicon Valley has been launching startups that spin-off some great innovation and make profit for investors.  Compared to launch development these tech ventures are low-cost and fast on returns.  To limit space ventures to satellites, sensors, and software leaves us with little no innovation in heavy launchers.  The big companies do contribute, but Spacex is demonstrating what can happen with an agile effort.  Still, vertical launch and landing is not the only tool.

New space innovation draws some pretty dedicated people, as we saw at Xcor.  They fought to keep funding moving ahead of development, and still went on to yet another space venture.  There are people out there making the technology on a shoe string and they are not silly people.  But developing launch technology is as far from paying customers as it is from orbit.  Incubators know they can’t launch vehicles projects with such huge costs.  To expect “space” incubators to make a difference is how we con ourselves into a silly valley. 

BEST OF THE BEST:  what test?

The typical aerospace career needs a good education and a big payroll employer.  They want the best of the best…just like in the movie “Men in Black”.  And like the movie, there are other kinds of smart.  Henry Ford had no degrees but he had mechanical aptitude and common sense.  There is more than one kind of talent, technical, marketing, management, manufacturing, and much more.  No one does a single handed launcher program.  In some cases the big aero employee may decide to launch a small space venture of their own.  They may bring experience from any of a number of great programs while leaving the political issues behind.  These new ventures are free to build on good experiences and add new solutions.  But scratching out SBIR offerings does not always pave the way to revolutionary solutions.

NO RIDE$: can’t get there

So the cube satellite market will have a few small launchers eventually.  But the big customers who pay well are still paying top dollar for reliable rides.  All the dreams about space stations, moon bases, and mining are not seeing the high flight rate needed for their growth.

SUPERSIZE ME: di$po$able

For bigger payloads vertical launch works reliably, and vertical recovery is getting better.  But disposable stages are still costing customers.  There are still disposable stages on Falcon 9, Stratolaunch, Virgin Orbital, and every other launch system out there now.  We need to break through to greater cost reductions.

BOLDLY NO: no no no your boat

If you are willing to “boldly go” you will not find many willing to boldly go with you.  I would expect all the funding sources to turn you down for a half-billion dollar venture.  They should say no because they are responsible to their investors to deliver customer payoff in short order.  Just walking up to their door with technology will not get them to the payoff in a short time.

NO BUCKS: or rogers

Big aerospace is attempting to innovate as they are threatened by reusable launch economies.  They too need big capital to move ahead and they are motivated.  But identification and validation of solutions is complicated and no one venture has all the assets.  Government is often entangled in political pork barrels and obsolete ideas so they often miss the real needs.  We need affordable innovation, research and development.

HIGH PLANES: customer reach

These investments are challenged by long 10-20 year development periods before customers are buying launches.  It takes a real hero to ante up for a new launch vehicle, and we need them now.  Those investors need to see shorter times and better solutions before they will spend money.  They need to see solid business and technical plans moving in productive organizations.

MULTIPLE DIVISIONS: tech>biz>bux>sux

Perhaps we need to break the problem down a bit.  Innovation may progress though technology ideas to business planning, funding, marketing, fabrication, testing, and manufacturing.  No one has all the assets to deliver fast results on a budget for launchers.  But we need the big solutions so we may need to take a lesson from our vehicle designs: stages work.

STAGES:  pieces of the whole

As with our vehicles, we need boosters and orbiters; groups dedicated to getting things off the ground and refining the best ideas to fruition.  With a potential for many ideas and opinions, a virtual meeting place may allow financial and technical innovation to develop.  Initially I can offer our “OrionCraft Space Incubation” page, a Facebook group, as a starting point.  That is merely a place to invite conversation and target a better set of tools.  To establish a web site with tools for innovation will identify some early ideas that boosters can get behind.

PAPER AIRPLANE: shoot it down, build it back up

When an “imagineer” proposes a vehicle technology or a business plan, we don’t know if it will fly.  But we need to encourage all the creative marketing and technology that we can find.  Rather than ignoring or crushing ideas we should have a path of evaluation available.  Actual analysis will identify value for real markets.  When you solve customer problems the business plans will find a way to meet their needs.

MANY CHEFS:  vendors ready

We have professional organizations, schools, vendor companies, individuals, space and aviation organizations with contributions to offer.  There are business students looking at space investment, and space incubators all over the world.  We should have recruiting services bringing people with business and technical skills together.  Common interests may be identified within these groups to facilitate collaboration.  There are already some collaborations in place that may be able to rise to meet the task.

DESSERT DESERT: not without sugar

There has to be rewards for efforts that may save our industry.  We will be in a very dry place without some form of payment for contributions.  We need a regular system that rewards innovation with both recognition and monetary compensation.  There are business plan competitions now, but is there an incentive to revolutionize launch services for the growing future markets?  Is there an “X” Prize to provoke affordable avenues to LEO? 

THINKUBATORS: a good example of unity

The Rocky Mountain Incubation Collaborative is a coalition of incubation sites in the Western United States.  They share resources to help incubation efforts in several states.  If this kind of cooperation grows we may be able to help both small and large venture efforts.  We can incubate every type and size of service this industry needs to deliver a real space future.

RECIPIE FOR SUCCESS:  meet all the needs

To provide for future needs we need to identify stages for growth and development.  Preferences for technologies can be grouped and provided with tools for their mission.  Trade studies can evaluate proposals to meet financial and technical needs.  Potential can be paired with interested participants.

LIGHT THE FUSE…contact booster groups

This article is the foundation that we will share by contacting potential supporters.  Industry, education, vendors, aerospace organizations and social media are all avenues to spread the word.  This is an opportunity for hands on contribution with real assets to realization.  Are we ready to boldly go?


an old article of ours:







2 thoughts on “RED ALERT

  1. Looking at the difficulties of obtaining funding for ‘alternative’ launch systems, and at the problems even SpaceX had with its innovative use of conventional rocket systems, I think the most a private company without access to billions of dollars in funding can do is get a demonstrator working and hope to convince someone to acquire the project.

    I think this is what Rocket Lab is doing with its Electron rocket, or what XCOR Aerospace tried to do.

    So, the critical issue for your project is if all the advantages and capabilities can be demonstrated using a small-scale model.

    Can a ‘small’ two-stage rocketplane even be made?

    • Exactly…
      We are looking at small prototypes but they have a very competitive small customer base. The demonstration of a fully reusable system should be pretty bold…IF the real market, big payload customers, is receptive to moving the scale up. We are focused on taking care to reach customers without getting beat up on an overcrowded competitive tiny satellite market. Spacex abandoned the Falcon 1 to focus on the big profit heavy market. They still missed an Air Force contract because the Falcon heavy is not ready yet. But they are beating up the market with low cost for what they do deliver. If there is more cost reduction available we may see a window to join that market. That is what new launch ventures should be aiming at. We are sorting out all the best technologies we may be able to use now.

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