17–19 September 2018
Hyatt Regency Orlando, Orlando, Florida

Nurturing Free-Market Space Enterprise

Posted: 14 September 2016, 10:05 a.m. EDT

Panelists: Moderator Sophia Bright, director of program strategy and execution, Information Technology Product Systems, Boeing; Michael Griffin, chairman and CEO, Schafer Corp., and former NASA administrator; Bruce Pittman, contractor, Wyle Laboratories, and chief system engineer, NASA’s Space Portal, NASA’s Ames Research Center; Chris Ferguson, deputy program manager and director of crew and mission operations, Commercial Crew Program, Boeing, and former astronaut; Jeff Matthews, director of venture strategy and research, Space Frontier Foundation

by Ben Iannotta, Aerospace America editor-in-chief

Commercializing space transportation and exploiting resources in space will require a welcoming regulatory approach, wise decisions about infrastructure and a willingness to accept risks of accidents short of being foolhardy.

Those were among the themes struck by experts on the “Limited or Unlimited: Envisioning a Free Market Space Industry” panel Sept. 13 at AIAA SPACE 2016 in Long Beach, California.

Michael Griffin, a former NASA administrator and former president of AIAA, reminded audience members that he — and possibly others in the room — lost friends in the Challenger launch explosion and that NASA’s recovery from the Columbia disintegration occurred during his tenure at NASA.

“Efficiency is not always the goal that in retrospect you would praise most highly,” he said, in an apparent reference to NASA’s Commercial Crew program, in which contractors are engineering spacecraft to take astronauts to the international space station and back. “I fear that we’ll make some mistakes that in retrospect will seem avoidable.”

Boeing’s Chris Ferguson, the astronaut who landed the orbiter Atlantis on the final mission of the space shuttle program, said the Commercial Crew program is proceeding well. He compared the period between that mission and the forthcoming Commercial Crew flights to crossing a desert.

“These six years are going to end shortly,” he said, adding that it’s been impressive to go from “zero to three” potential modes of U.S. transportation to the station in such a short span.

On the topic of regulation, Bruce Pittman of NASA’s Space Portal, which promotes ideas for commercial innovation, cautioned government officials against attempting to regulate “things you don’t fully understand.”


Participants in the panel discussion, "Limited or Unlimited: Envisioning a Free Market Space Industry," on Tuesday, 13 September, at AIAA SPACE 2016, taking place 13–16 September 2016, in Long Beach, CA.

Griffin quipped: “That rarely slows them down.”

Panelists also raised the possible hurdles posed by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty for such activities as asteroid mining. Griffin said the treaty’s “ambiguity” was intentional, because some countries at the time did not want to cede resources to the leading space-faring nations.

To promote space commercialization in the modern era, advocates in the U.S. “must lean forward in the cockpit in our interpretation of how that treaty was structured and what it means,” Griffin added.

In addition to sorting out what kind of private-sector activities in space are permissible, attention will need to be given to the kinds of products or services that can be delivered by establishing stations or other infrastructure in space.

“How do you close the business case for space?” asked Jeff Matthews of the Space Frontier Foundation.

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Dates to Remember

  • Abstract Deadline: 08 Feb 2018
  • Manuscript Deadline: 16 Aug 2018
  • Early Bird Reg Deadline: 27 Aug 2018
  • Cancellation Deadline: 04 Sep 2018

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