DSER Releases Strategic Analysis Report to the Space Industry

Bowling Green, KY, April 05, 2010 --(PR.com)-- Conventional wisdom among many space policy experts is that sustainability arises from technology development and job creation. But a strategic analysis group suggests that subtle, unaddressed drivers are equally critical; and without including them in policy, the manned space flight industry will be unable to graduate from a solely government-subsidized affair. Their report, “Space Policy via Macro-Economic Analysis,” introduces an alternative view of the space industry and highlights yet-unaddressed strategic drivers that affect sustainability.

“This work has been submitted to NASA and government officials, and met with great unofficial support,” said Dr. Gordon Smith, Ph.D., co-author of the report. “As the debate is moving further into the public eye, we felt it the right time to introduce our ideas on a broader stage.”

Beginning in 1995 as a study analyzing business opportunities within the space industry, the authors originally sought to resolve conflicting industry data by applying qualitative tools drawn from their scientific and program management backgrounds. Examining commonalities stemming from government policies and reports over a twenty-seven year span, and how they related to each other, the authors discovered that the space industry as a whole should be thriving. However, only satellites and suborbital space flight appeared to respond to government efforts; after thirty years of incentives, technology advances, and visionary destinations, manned orbital space flight remains solely a government-subsidized affair.

To understand this difference, the authors considered a macro-economic approach to the space flight industry, dealing with the broader issues of why money is spent instead of focusing on details of how much a part costs. This approach, and the studies that followed, ultimately revealed subtle differences between the manned orbital space flight and the remainder of the space industry. These differences, the report suggests, explain why that market continues to experience difficulties in achieving commercial independence and the related goal of sustainability. Something else is needed.

Macro-economic Analysis
“It all comes down to affordability,” said Alan Thompson, BSME, co-author of the report. “Affordability is a key requirement for sustainability, and successful commercialization is the means by which an industry is perceived as affordable.” This relationship is readily apparent in the successes of the satellite industry and the growing suborbital space flight market.

From a macro-economic perspective, many of the controllable costs associated with manned orbital space flight (beyond technological advances or economies of scale) involve safety and reliability. Manned orbital space flight applies the same methods for safety and reliability as are applied to the remainder of the space industry, through redundancies and damage tolerant design (DTD) practices.

It is here that the operational differences in manned orbital space flight cause a significant issue. Unlike satellites, manned orbital space flight must support astronauts; unlike manned suborbital space flight, these astronauts remain isolated in a hostile environment potentially indefinitely. These differences drive the costs associated with safety and reliability in manned orbital space flight to unsustainable levels.

Looking at alternatives, other transportation industries operate similarly to manned orbital space flight, address safety and reliability, and are sustainable. While DTD practices remain in use, there are additional government agencies specifically tasked to respond to mechanical or medical emergencies. These agencies limit the extent to which DTD practices must be applied. This mechanism is missing in manned orbital space flight, and the authors suggest it is needed before the industry successfully transitions to sustainable commercial independence.

“It’s pretty clear when once you spot it,” said Dr. Smith, “Consider for a moment that you were planning a trip across the country and back, and needed to buy a car for the journey. However, that car was a custom-build, relying on technologies that weren’t yet in widespread use. Furthermore, it had to carry all of its fuel, supplies, and air for the entire journey lasting a few weeks or possibly longer; and if anything went wrong, or the car broke down, you would die with the entire world watching in horror. How much would that car cost; compared to one with access to a tow truck?”

Mitigating these cost drivers of safety and reliability in many transportation industries, the government fulfills natural support roles in the form of ambulances or the Coast Guard. Without this support in the manned space flight industry, it is difficult to make arguments that can convince commercial ventures to risk the dangers of manned orbital space flight, despite the potential rewards. Under this light, it is not surprising that few companies are even exploring long-term possibilities, much less actively obtaining profit from manned orbital space assets.

Policy Implications
In February of 2010, the Obama Administration released an initial policy directive, shifting launch responsibilities to the commercial sector. In response, there have been numerous congressional and public concerns over commercial capabilities and job impacts. The recommendations emerging from the DSER strategic analysis supports both positions by calling for a government-run infrastructure agency addressing on-orbit emergencies. This capability reduces the risks to a commercial sector growing into its responsibilities, establishes a clear application for the professional expertise of the existing technical workforce, and provides a means for the Administration and Congress to reach a mutually agreeable position.

Copies of “Space Policy via Macroeconomic Analysis” are available for download from the DSER web site at http://dserweb.echoechoplus.com/.

Alan Thompson