Space-Based Economy Level One

Propulsion / Space Launch Industry

The most visible part of the Space industry is the Launch industry. In cost terms, this is only about 13% of the total expenditures of the satellite business - yet, everything else depends on the precision, safety and timing of the launch. This is of course because there is little infrastructure "out there" to do any form of rescue or repair, once something is launched.

The few anecdotes of repair and rescue in Space are so rare that they have become folklore. The return of the Apollo 13 crew after an explosion, the rescue of the Mir station after a collision, the recovery of a Hughes satellite by sending it on a lunar gravity-assist trajectory, the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope, and and the unfolding saga of keeping the International Space Station supplied and maintained after the tragic breakup of the Space Shuttle Columbia grounded the Shuttle fleet - each of these is a major story of innovation, courage and daring under pressure. These are exceptions. For the most part, the Space industry depends on the absolute precision of the launch industry. The financial risks are enormous, and the competition for business is fierce - and growing. From what we see, the demand is not rising - in fact, recent Futron Corporation / NASA studies indicate that the capacity for launching satellites far exceed the demand from customers able to pay for such things.

Below, we try to capture the essence of today's and the recent past of, the Space Launch industry, by providing links to the most succinct forms of knowledge: university courses, industry/government reports and congressional testimony on the industry.

The conclusion we derive is simple: Without substantial infrastructure in Space (or on the Moon), things are not going to get better unless someone invents something truly miraculous. The effect of infrastructure has not been given much evident thought in these reports and deliberations.


For an introduction to Space flight issues including propulsion, see the Space Flight section of the "Design-Centered Introduction" course at the front page of the ADL site.

For a summary of a graduate-level course on technologies for Space propulsion, see Rocket Propulsion

"Marketing Opportunities in Space: The Near Term Roadmap". U.S. Department of Commerce. Results of a national workshop sponsored by the DOC Office of Space Commercialization and others to discuss ideas for facilitating emerging space markets

Analysis of Space Concepts Enabled by New Transportation (ASCENT) Study by Futron Corporation, January 2003, commissioned by NASA. Includes estimates and projections of demand and supply for launches.

Executive Summary

Volume I: Main Report

Volume II: Appendices

Robert S.Walker et al., "Commission on the Future of the Aerospace Industry". Click here for the pdf version of the Final Report, November 2002.

Robert S. Walker et al., "U.S. Aerospace and Aviation Industry: A State-by-State Analysis". Report by the Commission on the Future of the Aerospace Industry, October 2002.

Summary in 2003: "The Space Launch Industry: Recent Trends And Near-Term Outlook" July 2003 (courtesy of Futron Corporation)

Summary in 2001: "IB93062: Space Launch Vehicles: Government Activities, Commercial Competition, and Satellite Exports" by Marcia S. Smith, CRS Issue Brief for Congress, Resources, Science and Industry Division, Congressional Research Service, May 23, 2001.

Barriers to Commercial Space Launch Industry: Testimony by Bruce Mahone, Director, Space Policy, AIA before te U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, June 10, 1999.

For a summary of the space launch industry, see "The Commercial Space Launch Industry". Gale Schluter, VP, Boeing, Testimony before the Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Senator William Frist, Chairman, May 20, 1999.


Another view of the 1999 Hearings: "Launch Industry Needs Refocus, Leader Says" By Frank Sietzen Jr. Special to posted: 12:22 pm ET 29 December 1999

Summary of 1999: "Launch Failures and Recovery Shape 1999's Space Competition" By Frank Sietzen Special to posted: 07:39 am ET 28 December 1999

A view from a different angle: "Europeans Deride U.S. Launch Industry as 'Xenophobic' By Frank Sietzen, Jr. Special to posted: 07:09 pm ET 18 July 2000.