May 16 NSS Phoenix Meeting

The May meeting of the Phoenix Chapters of the National Space Society and the Moon Society will be at our usual date and location on the third Saturday (May 16, 11 am) at the Humanist Center in Mesa. Dr. Dave Williams from ASU will give us an update on the Dawn mission to Ceres.  The Dawn spacecraft has entered its science orbit about this minor planet and is starting to return exciting images of this body. As always, see the blog at for more details as well as interesting commentary.


Dr. David A. Williams is an Associate Research Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. Dr. Williams is the Director of the Ronald Greeley Center for Planetary Studies, the NASA Regional Planetary Information Facility at ASU. He is also the Director of the NASA Planetary Aeolian Laboratory at the Ames Research Center in California. David is currently performing research in volcanology and planetary geology, with a focus on planetary mapping, geochemical, and remote sensing studies.

Hope you can make it!


Mike Mackowski

President, Phoenix chapters NSS & TMS

2015 Space Access Conference

Commentary by Mike Mackowski

I attended the last two days of this year’s Space Access Conference, held April 30 through May 2 at the Radisson Phoenix North hotel. Henry Vanderbilt has done a marvelous job pulling this event together year after year, and it has evolved from something like a hyper-hobbyist rocketry meeting to a mini-version of the International Space Development Conference.

The topics get more diverse each year and this was no exception. There were the expected updates from folks like Jeff Greason (XCOR) and Dave Masten (Masten Aerospace) but also from student groups, researchers, and other experts involved in trying to find ways to speed the development of an off-planet economy. But what struck me was an over-riding theme of honesty and reality among the presentations. Lately I’ve been exposed to a lot of what I call “space hype” where people predict great things and make promises of achievements that clearly are not going to happen. Not so at this year’s Space Access.

It started with Henry Spencer’s honest appraisal of the concept of mining extraterrestrial resources. Sure, there may be water on the Moon’s poles but getting it out will be difficult and expensive. We current have no idea if the ice is embedded in the form of a very hard solid or available as a fluffy snow. Breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen takes a lot of energy, and storing liquid hydrogen is difficult. Pete Swan continued with his examination of the economics of mining asteroids, and (along with Jeff Greason) anticipated that we’d have to plan on a government-sponsored Mars mission as the initial anchor customer. That is a reasonable plan, but it adds a lot of uncertainty. Doug Plata promoted using the COTS approach to lunar development. This is certainly an appealing idea, but achieving a true cis-lunar economy based on extraterrestrial resources is a long, long way off. Establishing a market for these products will be difficult. It was refreshing to see these problems laid out honestly.

There were similar frank appraisals of the challenges of getting humans to Mars. Erik Seedhouse gave a talk on the many unknowns (radiation, low gravity, bone decalcification) related to the human body’s reaction to long term spaceflight, or even long duration visits to low-gravity surfaces. Perhaps studying some of these effects on the Moon is a smart option before committing to Mars. Several speakers, particularly Gary Hudson, suggested that what is really needed is a true variable gravity biology lab in low Earth orbit. NASA seems to think humans will simply adapt to low gravity and we can do initial Mars missions before we have these answers. That approach has a lot of risk, and we’ll need a lot more data before permanent settlements can be assured of any sort of chance for success.

There were other examples of reality-based perspectives. XCOR (and other companies) would love to develop a non-toxic monopropellant but the chemistry makes that very difficult and/or expensive, so most folks fall back to hydrazine. Going from reusable, high altitude, suborbital rockets to reusable orbital vehicles is a huge, difficult jump. Doug Messier gave a sobering assessment of Virgin Galactic, the SpaceShipTwo accident, and the observation that it is over ten years from them winning the Ansari X Prize and it is still unknown when the first commercial tourist flights will occur and what will be the performance capabilities of the vehicle.

There were other topics presented, many offering clever solutions to some of these challenges. But overall I was happy to see some honesty and realism in the general tone of the conference.

Watch This Space

I’m way behind in posting any commentary here even though there have been a number of interesting developments in the space industry. So here we go again.

Lockheed Martin announced a fascinating space vehicle design called Jupiter (after the first intercontinental railroad engine) as their entry in the CRS-2 (commercial resupply service) program. It is a partially re-usable space tug with an integral robotic arm that is used to swap out payload modules. It uses a fair amount of existing designs, much like Orbital ATK’s Cygnus, but adds a long-lived segment that transfers fresh cargo modules. This is very reminiscent of 1970s vintage space cargo tugs. LockMart postulates that this design could be used not just for ISS resupply but also in support of cis-lunar and even interplanetary activities.

I like the idea and think it is rather clever, but I wonder about the economics. Usually complex designs (robotic arm, replaceable modules, refueling, etc.) are costly to develop and tend to have features that don’t work as designed or as well as expected. This results in stretched out development schedules, increased costs, and diminished capabilities. Still, it is a fresh take on the pre-shuttle space tug concept and it will be interesting to see how it fares.

Another development was a set of conferences and workshops that resulted in some interesting announcements. One was from the Pioneering Space National Summit, an invitation-only gathering of over 100 people from government, industry, and advocacy groups. It’s notable that I have yet to find a list of who actually participated in this summit and who signed the consensus statement. They came out with a rather bland vision statement that essentially said space exploration is a good thing and that it should eventually lead to space settlements. Apparently the fact that they got so many people from many disparate organizations to agree on the wording was considered a huge accomplishment. I can see their point, but if it took a herculean effort to wordsmith a vanilla pudding statement like that, it is going to be really difficult to make the really hard decisions.

Another invitation-only workshop was co-sponsored by the Planetary Society and considered human missions to Mars. The idea was that recent studies predict sending people to Mars (and bringing them back) will be unaffordably expensive. This workshop re-examined that and determined that the current NASA budget trend would still allow development of human missions to Mars within twenty years. One of their key findings was to include sending people on Mars orbital missions first. It would take both government and private sector involvement but could be done without a need to double or triple NASA’s budget. That is encouraging news, but it still requires a long-term national commitment that I’m not sure can be established in today’s short attention span political and social climate.

Yuri’s Night is Almost Here!

April 12 is the anniversary of the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. The world celebrates with a global space party! Once again, the students of SEDS at ASU are leading the way with the local Phoenix event. It will (probably) be at ISTB4 on Sunday evening, April 12, although the location may change to another building. There will be food, fun, and a movie.  Plan to be there, as everyone is welcome!

Watch these sites for updates:



The First SpaceUp Phoenix was a Success

Our March event was SpaceUp Phoenix. This was an un-conference held on Saturday, March 7, 2015 as part of the Arizona Science and Technology Festival. The event ran from 9 am until 4 pm on the campus of Mesa Community College (MCC) and was sponsored by the by the Phoenix chapters of the National Space Society, the Moon Society, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). The Arizona State University (ASU) branch of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) were very helpful in promoting the event to their members. Mike Mackowski served as the event chair. Speakers included Planetary Society president Jim Bell, Space Access Society president Henry Vanderbilt, former NSS president Charlie Walker, former deputy director of NASA Glenn Research Center Rich Christiansen, and Pete Swan, president of the International Space Elevator Consortium.

MCC provided several rooms for the event in building PS15 at no cost to the sponsoring groups. Preregistration, including Google Documents sign-up form, survey form, and Paypal registration payments, were provided by the AIAA section. Members of AIAA and SEDS and other volunteers did most of the on-site registration and hospitality staffing. MCC staff purchased refreshments in advance, arranged a coffee service from the campus food service, and picked up pizzas for lunch.

Total attendance, including speakers, was around 65 people, with 42 registered in advance. As people came and went during the day, the average attendance at any one time was about forty. Remarks from visitors and guest speakers suggested that attendees enjoyed the conference and were happy with the content and quality of the presentations. Comments from attendees during the event were very positive. Folks seemed to be having a good time, and I observed a lot of side conversations and interaction among the invited speakers and other attendees.

I thought this event went really well and was a lot of fun. For photos and other information, please see the SpaceUp Phoenix website:

Opening up our Solar System with Space Mineral Resources 

Our April 18 meeting will feature Dr. Peter Swan, who was one of our SpaceUp participants. At our next meeting, he will talk about the International Academy of Astronautics recent three year study that has taken on the challenge of understanding the opportunities and concerns of mining the solar system.  The report will show the following conclusions:
•The exploitation of space mineral resources is becoming a commercial space endeavor for the benefit of humanity and profit
•The question on the table is not “how” to leverage space minerals resources; but, ”how best” to leverage them
•Preliminary economic conclusions include (1) architectures based upon returning precious metals to terrestrial markets alone appears to be a non-starter, (2) the existence of in-space customers for propellants, consumables, structural materials, and shielding could make asteroid mining economically feasible, and (3) longer-term hybrid architectures with both terrestrial and in-space customers could become feasible as costs drop and market size increases.
Dr. Swan will explain the approach to the study and layout out a potential future for space exploration that will include mining the resources available above low Earth orbit.

February 21 Monthly Meeting

The February meeting of the Phoenix Chapters of the National Space Society and the Moon Society will be at our usual date and location Saturday (Feb. 21, 2015, 11 am) at the Humanist Center in Mesa. Our program will be a viewing of the documentary film “Lunarcy!” This film features Moon Society former president, Peter Kokh, former NSS regional director, Chris Carson, and Apollo astronaut and artist, Alan Bean, among others.

Amazon describes this feature thus: “With wry humor and affection, Simon Ennis’ Lunarcy! follows a disparate group of dreamers and schemers who share one thing in common; they’ve all devoted their lives to the Moon.” I finally had a chance to view it myself at the regional NSS conference in St. Louis (with Carson and Kokh in the audience) and found it to be a fascinating film.


Additionally, I would like to remind you of the upcoming SpaceUp Phoenix, which will be Sat. March 7 and take the place of our normal March meeting. Advance registration is encouraged for planning purposes, and admission is only $5. Please see the website for details:

Hope to see many of you Saturday!

Mike M.