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Dr. James (Jim) Wertz, Sunday, 3-17-13 March 17, 2013

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Dr. James (Jim) Wertz, Sunday, 3-17-13


Guest:  Dr. James (Jim) Wertz.  Topics:  Reducing space mission launch costs, changing space industry attitudes.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information.

We welcomed back Dr. Jim Wertz, President of Microcosm, to continue our discussion on lowering total space mission costs.  For more information, visit the company website, www.smad.com/ie/ieframessr2.html.  Make sure you check out the Scorpius launch vehicle link on the website as this launcher could be a model for what Dr. Wertz talked about during the program.  In the first hour of our 100 minute program, Dr. Wertz identified sequestration and the government response to it as a big problem for the space industry, specifically the smaller companies and financially vulnerable projects.  Also, the fact that we are still on CR with the budget adds to the stress.  Despite the problems, Dr. Wertz did say throughout our discussion that it was possible for something good to come out of all of the problems in that we might actually start focusing on lowering total space mission costs. During much of the first hour, Dr. Wertz discussed the way the industry works, some of the challenges to lowering mission costs, and the need for lots and lots of attitudes to change to embrace the lower mission cost goals rather than the status quo or holding on to thinking that the rough times will pass and then we will be back to normal.  We talked about choke points in the strategy, the challenges, the hurdles.  I asked if NASA and Congress were the obstacles.  Dr. Wertz mostly said it was a collective attitude throughout the industry with all of us and all sectors that prevents the broad scale creation of the low cost mission environment.  He cited many examples, including a ten year spacecraft build out with a 15 year life such that when done, its 25 years behind the times.  He talked about advancing & new technology and the need to stay current, to keep replacing the old with the new.  We also talked about the value & economics of having hardware & component backups on a shelf ready to go when needed.  Reusability came up & I used Doug’s email as the poster question on the subject.  This turned into an detailed discussion about the both the upside and downside of reusability. As you will hear, economics don’t favor reusability unless there is a dramatically higher launch rate.  Dr. Jurist called in to talk about student projects & the need to launch them while the students are still in school. He also talked about this in the context of keeping young people interested in space.  He asked Jim for solutions and Jim suggested simpler designs. For example, pressure fed systems rather than using high speed turbo pumps with thousands of parts, plus the use of more composites, especially in the tanks.  Jim was asked about the minimum possible launcher size and he said about 100 kg or 220 lbs. to LEO.

In our shorter second segment, Dr. Wertz was asked about the commercial private ventures announced in 2012 and so far this year.  He though we were technically capable of doing most of them but that the track record for the private sector in reducing total space mission costs was not that much better than the public sector track record.  He went back to saying the main driver was attitude and that changing attitudes within the industry in the public and private sectors was key to reducing space mission costs.  He cited yet another example, this time the idea to use AMSAT for space communications.  Dr. Wertz added that we need to convey urgency to the policy makers in getting them to change their attitude as other nations are moving forward with space and in many ways we are in retreat.  Claudia in Memphis sent in a note asking if classes were taught in aerospace engineering programs on how to change attitudes within the industry.  Dr. Wertz liked the idea but was not aware of classes of that kind.  As the program was ending, he talked about how and who to influence and used the Rachel Carson environmental book “Silent Spring” as an example.  He concluded the discussion by mentioning the Reinventing Space Conference in Los Angeles, Oct. 13-17 (see www.responsivespace.com). He repeated his hope for a positive outcome from sequestration which would be a renewed focus on the need to actually develop systems & the environment to enable reduction of space mission costs, including launch costs.

Please post your comments/questions on The Space Show blog.  You can email Dr. Wertz at jwertz@smad.com.