"Measures of Success"
Dr. George C. Nield, Washington, D.C.
May 16, 2008

Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee


Thank you, Will.

Thank you, Admiral Barrett, for joining us here today, for your inspiring comments, and for your continuing support. This industry is committed to using those virtues you mentioned to bring about a better future for all of us.

Thank you, Bobby, for your leadership, for your confidence, and for believing in commercial space transportation.

And thanks to all of you.

I begin this morning with a basic observation.

People in this industry believe in commercial space transportation, as a pillar of our national security, as a vital component of our economic health and well-being, and as a key indicator of our technological leadership.

I’m excited about that and I know you are too.

Surprising as it may seem, however, there are some skeptics.

There are some people who don’t believe that private enterprise can service the International Space Station; or take ordinary citizens into space; or bring down the cost of launching satellites.

So, for the benefit of both the skeptics and the believers, I think it’s useful to examine a variety of ways to measure progress in commercial space and also to look for progress in places you might not expect.

I want to do some of that this morning.

Perhaps the best place to begin is with a fairly sophisticated analytical tool. So, very briefly, let’s apply to commercial space transportation, the “Victor Appleton Index of Space Technology Integration.”

Since some of you may not be familiar with this important metric, let me explain.

The Victor Appleton Index (or VAI for short) is a consequence of recently developed techniques for utilizing high-thrust, restartable rocket engines on Reusable Launch Vehicles. It correlates expected launch rates and failure rates with a series of parameters, including anticipated financial return, and, in the aggregate, produces a quantitative measure of public perception of and reaction to rocket launch activity.

The index was developed by…well, actually I made it up.

As a matter of fact, Victor Appleton isn’t even a real person. Someone else made him up.

However the name is real, and so is the work to which the name attaches.

Collectively, “Victor Appleton” is the name used by the many people who, over countless childhoods and numerous generations, have written the Tom Swift, Boy Inventor books.

I thought it would be instructive to see how these stories, spanning nearly 100 years, have responded to the interests of young people.

I’ll give you a few examples.

When both Tom Swift and aviation were very young, the series included titles like Tom Swift and His Airship; or Tom Swift and His Flying Boat; or Tom Swift and His Sky Racer.

Then came the 1950s and 60s and the titles changed to things like Tom Swift and His Rocket Ship; or His Outpost in Space; or His Race to the Moon.

The thing to keep in mind is that in each time period, the titles fairly reflected the enthusiasms of the young.

Well Tom Swift is back again, and I have with me today two of the latest books in the series.

This one is simply called Rocket Racers and it includes everything from computer-displayed racing lanes, to frequent pit stops, to JumboTrons for the audience. Sound familiar?

And this one is called The Space Hotel, a book that features space tourism, complete with parabolic flight training, and a launch from Brazil to an inflatable space hotel. (We probably need to check with the publishers on that Brazil thing.) 

These books show, at a level not always generally visible to you or me, that just as the excitement of aviation and the thrill of exploring the moon reached earlier generations of young people, the promise of commercial space is reaching our youth today.

That’s an excellent sign, both for the young, and for the future of this industry.

Of course, there are plenty of excellent signs — solid, tangible evidence just since our last COMSTAC meeting — that commercial space transportation is getting a firmer, more noticeable hold on public awareness.

Now something like the “Appleton Index” might be one way to measure whether the idea of commercial space transportation is getting through to the kids.

But let’s apply another standard to see if there’s enough going on to register with the rest of the country.

This time, let’s try the real thing, the Lord Kelvin approach.

As you may remember from your physics classes, Lord Kelvin said:  “When you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers, you know something about it.”

So let’s look at some numbers.

Here’s a Lord Kelvin number even Tom Swift would love. Earlier this month, Genesis I, the one-third-scale inflatable test module built by Bigelow Aerospace, completed its 10,000th orbit around the Earth. Since its launch back in July 2006, the module and its systems have performed extremely well, with its cameras having recorded over 14,000 images, and with its electrical equipment having operated continuously for over 15,000 hours. Genesis I was joined on-orbit by its sister ship, Genesis II, in June of 2007.

Then there’s a somewhat smaller number with extremely large potential significance: Two. As in White Knight Two and Space Ship Two. In January, Burt Rutan and Richard Branson unveiled models of the vehicles that are being designed to carry space flight participants on regularly scheduled suborbital flights. Testing of the White Knight Two carrier aircraft is expected to begin later this year.

There are many other numbers by which to measure commercial space progress, including legislative bill numbers. In Virginia this March, the Governor signed the so-called “Zero-G tax bill” creating an income tax exemption for, among other things, income from the sale of launch services to space tourists and the delivery of COTS payloads to the International Space Station.

A day later the Hawaii House passed legislation to conduct feasibility studies for a spaceport.

And last month, the Florida Senate passed a bill providing immunity from liability for injury or death, provided a spaceflight participant’s decision to fly is based on informed consent.

As Lord Kelvin suggested, numbers help measure progress and they help you know more about your subject.

Look at the licensed launch numbers since our last COMSTAC meeting: a Delta II in December; a Zenit 3SL in January and another one in March; an Atlas V on April 14th, and a Pegasus XL two days later. That’s five successful licensed launches. And last October there were five permitted launches, with several more expected over the next few months.

Numbers matter — from legislative numbers, to launch figures, to vehicle numbers; even the numbers that are dates on the calendar.

Take these two dates for example.

First there was March 26, 2008. That’s the day XCOR unveiled the design of its suborbital Lynx vehicle, which will offer private citizens the chance to sit in the right-hand seat and look out on the world from space.

The other date is April 27, 2008. That was the day the old Titan service tower at Cape Canaveral came down to make way for a new tenant: Space X. I guess we don’t need a Lord Kelvin to tell us how powerful a metaphor that is.       

The fact is, commercial space transportation is growing, changing, defining itself, and allying with a new generation of people and business strategies that are aimed at using private enterprise to develop safer and more cost-effective ways to transport payloads and passengers to and through space.

It’s getting there.

With another bow to Lord Kelvin, you can see it in the numbers, especially the ones that come next.

On April 17, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation released a report called “The Economic Impact of Commercial Space Transportation on the U.S. Economy.”  The data showed the status of commercial space transportation as of 2006.

I will tell you now what I said the morning we released the report.

In 2006, commercial space transportation and enabled industries generated over $139 billion in economic activity. That represents a significant increase from the $98 billion in 2004, and is more than double the $61 billion in 1999, the year of our first report.

Earnings in 2006 totaled $35 billion, up some 40 percent over the $25 billion registered in 2004, and more than double the $16 billion in 1999.

The industry supported over 729,000 jobs in 2006, significantly higher than the 551,000 jobs identified in 2004 and up 47 percent over the 497,000 jobs in 1999.

Those are telling measurements, compelling numbers.

And they are numbers exclusively from the world of ELVs.

This industry is building on the proud and proven history of expendable launch vehicles and is gearing up for the new era of RLVs and commercial human spaceflight.

The truth is this isn’t something Tom Swift or Victor Appleton dreamed up. It’s a genuine industry being built by private enterprise, with mostly private capital, for the benefit of both ordinary citizens and the nation as a whole.

By the time we meet again in October, there will be more stories to tell, more numbers to report, more progress to share. This is a truly exciting time for commercial space transportation.

In so many ways, commercial space transportation has made measurable progress.

Still, in the end, I have to admit some things actually are immeasurable like the level of anticipation of coming to the office every day knowing there will always be something new.

I’ve always considered it a privilege to be part of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

I cannot imagine a more exciting time to lead it.

Thank you all very much.

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