Broadcast 3439 Tom Olson

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  • The Space Foundation Conference

The Space Foundation Conference

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Guest:  Tom Olson;  Topics:  NewSpace, Commercial Space & the space industry 2019 review with a loo at 2020 for the full space industry.

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We welcomed Tom Olson back to the show for his traditional annual review of all things space plus a look ahead for all things space for our new year, 2020.  Our program was a two segment 123 minute discussion.  Once again, I used the break between the first and second segments to read sponsor messages.  Note that we do have a few sponsorship openings for 2020 if you are interest and there are a few days left of our annual fundraising campaign.  The Space Show needs your help in funding 2020 operations and upgrading our nearly 20 year old telephone hybrid equipment.  Please donate using the PayPal banner at the top of our home page or you can make a check out to One Giant Leap Foundation and send it to P.O. Box 95, Tiburon, CA  94920.

I started the discussion with a question that would normally have been asked much later in the show.  The question that led Tom's 2019 space industry review asked him for his view on the worst events or happenings related to space in 2019. After a short pause to think about the worst of the worst, Tom started with the bankruptcy of Mars One.  This started a rather detailed conversation about Mars One, even at one point suggesting that the failure may have helped pave the way for progress in the fields of space agriculture, farming, life support and more.  That said, Tom was fairly detailed with the negatives regarding Mars One.  If you have thoughts on Mars One, please post them on our blog. 

We moved on but disappointments, setbacks and failures were brought up a few times during the discussion with listener emails, phone calls and by both Tom and myself.  We then started to talk about NewSpace investment funds.  I mentioned Starbridge and also Tom being the guy that set the tone for this field more than a decade ago with his plans for the Colony Fund. Tom was decades ahead of his time.  Tom also made many Space Show appearances way back then near the start of our program talking about the Colony Fund. These programs are all archived so you could go back and here them.  Again, Tom was the guy, in my opinion, who really did set the stage for commercial space investment funds and overall NewSpace investment opportunities.

I asked Tom about the CNN article from Dec. 29 titled "Business of spaceflight:  The 7 biggest moments of the year" by Jackie Watties of CNN Business.  You can find the article at  Tom and I took a look at each of the seven moments mentioned in the article, discussing each one and getting Tom's perspective on them.  In addition, Starship got mentioned many times with lots of discussion time, including their test challenges. Tom talked about the "botched" CST 100 test with Boeing, the Atlas 5 launch, parachutes, communications and more.  Adrian sent in a note about the communication problem causing the bad timing that prevented the capsule from getting to the right orbit for docking with the ISS, but Tom still said the test was a qualified success. I brought up the issue I had mentioned on an earlier show about the communication problem resulting from a timing conflict with a TDRS satellite.  Tom then moved on to reference and talk about Virgin Galactic going public. 

Returning to the 2019 failures, Tom brought up Vector, the dedicated small launch company in Tucson.  It failed, filed for bankruptcy and that surprised many who thought Vector would accomplish great things. In the last Zimmerman show, Bob had more to say about Vector so if you want more details, I suggest you listen to Bob's comments from his program a few days ago.  Ft. Worth John called to talk about the continuing delays with SLS. Earlier we had talked about Boeing being a disappointment for space for 2019 though Tom was not totally on board with that one.  Now Boeing came back into the picture with consistent SLS delays.  Don't miss what both John and Tom had to say about this. 

New propulsion ideas were mentioned for 2020 and beyond. Tom talked about a BBC article regarding Hall thrusters plus he mentioned nuclear and VASIMIR and EmDrive.  Tom then said one of the things still missing in the space arena was partial gravity research.  He had much to say on this topic.  Let us know what you think so do post on the blog.  Next up was Marshall who called to suggest that JWST was a boondoggle.  Before talking about the Space Force, Tom took time to summarize the global launch industry with commentary.

Tom was asked about the Space Force.  He was not enthusiastic about it and did not think it was needed.  I told Tom I disagreed with him, referenced some of the earlier guests but Tom did say he does not follow that part of the industry as closely as he does the business side of NewSpace.  I mentioned what I thought was an excellent interview on the Space Force with NASA Administrator Bridenstine a few days earlier.  I know many will be offended by my mentioning it because Bridenstine provided very positive shout outs to President Trump and his administration but as I said on air, get past the President Trump references and listen to why he said we need a space force.  The Bridenstine interview is here:  Again, post your comments on the Bridenstine comments on our blog.

For the second part of the program, we mostly focused on what lies ahead for 2020.  Tom mentioned returning the Moon, the lunar Gateway idea, SLS and the fact that it would be a very costly launch.  He compared it to Falcon suggested launch costs.  Also we quickly talked more about CST100, Crew Dragon and the fact that it has been nine years since a US crew flew on a US space vehicle.  Tom was then asked about orbital tourism since we were expecting crew operations in 2020.  Tom said that would have to wait until late in the decade.  He then had more to say about global launches.

Listener Mary sent in an email asking about regulations coming up for review.  Tom said it was not clear, then talked about AST going forward with new leadership. He did not think there was much of a desire to rock the commercial space boat.  Another listener sent in a note asking about SpaceX in Texas as compared to the Cape.  Yet another listener asked Tom if he thought the voices of opposition to space activities were greater in 2019 than earlier years and what they might be like for 2020.  Don't miss Tom's reply.  Another listener suggested that if space was as important to the world and the country as we keep saying, why was it not showing up in the campaigns of the various presidential candidates.  Once again, don't miss Tom's response to this question.  Tom then said that the space community was in a bubble which he spent time describing.  Perhaps you will want to comment on this part of what Tom talked about today. 

Nearing the end of our broadcast, Tom was asked to summarize 2019 and going forward.  He talked about his Center for Space Commerce and Finance (the link is below and on the blog), business plan success over the years and the fact that during 2019 there was about $6 billion in NewSpace related funding and for the past decade, the total was over $25 billion involving more than 500 companies.  Tom then mentioned several of the investment funds and opportunities that showed up in 2019.  Listener Bill was on hold for a long time because I forgot that he was there, a slip up that I apologized for and still apologize for as I don't like sticking people on hold for periods of time. Bill wanted to mentioned the fact that NASA Astronaut Christina Koch set a new record for days in space at 325!  Before concluding, Tom mentioned the impact over the decade of the Commercial Space Act of 2015, the Bigelow module with the ISS, Falcon 9 success, plus a few other decadal highlights on the planetary mission side plus our friend Buzz on Dancing With The Stars.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog for this program.  You can reach Tom through me on his website, The Center for Space Commerce and Finance at




Tom's classic annual review and look forward re NewSpace, Commercial space and more

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29 Dec 2019 Thomas A. Olson
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  • The Space Foundation Conference

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  • The Space Foundation Conference

  • space settlement progress

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