Lobbying, States

New organization seeks to change the space mindset in Texas

A new organization announced Friday seeks to convince Texas politicians of the benefits of commercial space–and, in the process, become a “tipping point” for a broader national change in perspectives on government versus commercial spaceflight.

Speaking at the Space Access ’11 conference in Phoenix on Friday, longtime space advocate announced the formation of an organization called the Texas Space Alliance (which goes by the acronym TXA, to avoid any association with the Transportation Security Administration). The goal of the TXA, said Tumlinson, is to make Texas “not just the United States’ leader in space activities, but also the world’s leader in space activities” through supporting commercial space activities in the state.

A big part of that effort is to convince state legislators and the state’s congressional delegation of the importance of commercial space, something he said they’re generally oblivious to despite the presence of ventures like Blue Origin in the state. “Everything is built around the NASA legacy,” Tumlinson said. “We’re going to try and change that.”

One of the first efforts of the TXA, a 501(c)4 lobbying organization, is to win passage of state legislation that provides liability immunity for spaceflight operators in the state. Tumlinson said the TXA originally planned to draft its own legislation, then learned of already proposed legislation, SB 115, supported by Blue Origin, and is instead backing that. That bill passed the state Senate last month; Tumlinson said he expected the House to pass it next week and the governor to sign it “in a few weeks.” The TXA is also exploring other state legislation, such as a zero-g/zero-tax bill.

The long-term goal of the TXA, though, is to get state legislators, and members of Congress, to think of space as something more than just NASA. That’s been a problem with the past with the state’s Republicans, he said, who are typically very conservative on most issues, but when it comes to space, “support a socialist space program.” That, he argues, could have benefits beyond the state’s borders. “I believe that if we can change what happens in Texas, and if I can change the behavior of the Texas delegation in Congress via-à-vis commercial space, we can hit a tipping point that begins to push the entire nation into opening the frontier.”

32 comments to New organization seeks to change the space mindset in Texas

  • Dex

    There are other “NewSpace” companies in Texas as well. SpaceX’s rocket test facility is within a 2 hour drive of Austin and Armadillo Aerospace is on the outskirts of Dallas. I would not be surprised if there are others.

  • Lurker

    Were where they 10 years ago when they might have made a difference? The Texas Aerospace Commission is long gone, as are the three proposed spaceports Texas space advocates were fighting for then. I see this as just an opportunist effort to ride the coattails of Blue Origins, whose lobbyists already did most of the heavy lifting on SB115, and AA and then claim they were responsible.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    It looks like while the agenda is certainly sensible, Rick is coming in with an “us against them” attitude of commercial space vs. NASA that is not going to sit very well with the people he is trying to influence. What TXA needs to do is to advocate for policies that allow commercial space and NASA to be mutually supportive and complementary, not hostile to one another. Otherwise I’m afraid that the organization may do a lot of harm.

  • DCSCA

    Names dropped by ‘staff’ include: Reagan, McCain, Rohrbacher.

    ‘Nuff said.

  • James T

    Agreed (@ Mark). The goal should never be to knock NASA down a peg. Rather they need to focus on the enemy being the 20th century legacy cost-plus contracts to build a government owned fleet. All we really need to do is push for true and fair market competition for launch services. If the old space industry folks can’t compete then too bad for them, that’s economics. If NASA continues to buy fleets from privileged pork companies and use them themselves, then it will infringe on the market that commercial is trying to compete for and industry growth will be at least stagnated.

    Also, I think trying to appeal directly to the Texas Congressional Space Pork Cabal isn’t a good strategy. I think it would be a better idea to appeal to the truly fiscal conservative legislators that don’t reside over space districts. The Texans don’t want to give up their pork, but maybe we can get the rest of the GOP to not stand for it. The tea baggers are so hungry for cuts that I feel it should be easy to convince them to defund SLS. You probably won’t be able to get a whole lot of CCDev dollars by siding with them, but if fair competition is opened I could accept the smaller investment capital.

    NASA needs to refocus on the science and the exploration that happens after they get to orbit. Getting to orbit is a task that needs to be accomplished every time we go to space for anything, and in government hands it has historically been the most expensive part of any such missions. Shifting this routine to commercial enterprises opens up the budget for more science and exploration programs, which in turn creates additional demand for the space industry to compete for. Prices go down, available budget goes up, missions increase, more launch services are needed, competition increases, prices go down, more customers can afford the service, competition increases, prices go down, and so on and so forth until we hit a price floor that rockets can’t break through. And I imagine that if the market demand is stable at that point and there is sufficient demand for ever cheaper services, than private investment capital will naturally flow into non-rocket based means of access to orbit like railguns or space elevators to name a couple.

  • Jim Hillhouse

    Yes, the Texas Areospace Commission, that would have been the group for Tomlinson to work with. it never got more than lip service from Rick Perry and the state leadership, at least at the meetings in which I participated. I think that was because the commercial space folks were never able to make a case, any case much less a strong one, of commercial space’s viability outside the gov’t ecosystem. When you’re bottom line is that you need a _____(insert grant, interest-free loan, appropriation) or other gov’t hand-out to get off the ground (most businesses don’t start off that way–mine sure didn’t), your chances of getting anything in this state are near zero. In the end, the Commission was much ado about nothing.

    Johnson part of a Socialist space program? Those Texans aware of Johnson Space Center are proud of it’s legacy and are unlikely to respond well to this unneeded adversarial relationship that Tomlinson seems to feed on.

    Rather than build up an artificial adversarial relationship between gov’t funded commercial space and the national space program as Rick seeks, another way to get things done may be to reach a consensus that allows for the growth of government funded private space while also nurturing the space program we already have. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what Congress did last year with the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    James T, the problem is that if you go in with the attitude that the Congressmen you are trying to influence are just a bunch of porkers who need setting straight, you won’t even get in the door. The approach should be, “Here is how supporting commercial space will benefit you, Texas, and NASA” in that order. Your offer a carrot, because apply the stick to people whom you cannot vote out of office and have power over you does not work.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Jim H – Too true, Fir many Texans, dissing JSC is like dissing the Alamo, It’s just not done.

  • James T

    @Mark

    I’m all for the carrot, but I want to offer the carrot to the more reasonable (never thought I’d refer to tea baggers as MORE reasonable than anybody) people who aren’t already being offered the pork.

    I agree that this all boils down to politics and you shouldn’t be making PUBLIC comments that paint the people heading the relavent committees as enemies. I was just saying that we might want to seek coalitions with more readily agreeable groups. “New Space” has been talking it’s talk for some time now, and “Old Space” keeps walking it’s same walk. I don’t think a new lobbying push directed and the same crowd is going to be effective. So either target different people with the lobby or wait for commercial to make more successes. I personally don’t like the wait and see strategy.

  • amightywind

    New Musk funded, liberal newspace astroturf campaign descends on Texas. They won’t go easy, I’ll give them that. Strangers in a strange land. Good luck with that.

  • Justin Kugler

    Do you just make this stuff up as you go along, windy, or does someone pay you to post that nonsense?

  • common sense

    @ Justin Kugler wrote @ April 9th, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Boy oh boy. Don’t you detect our friends above your comments are starting to loose steam on their favorite subject. Now “commercial space” ought to befriend the “old space”. Funny because I felt before that they all wanted to disparage new space. In the end they’ll all claim how great an idea it is to have new space.

    Now I think amightywind really is entertaining. I will miss it when he cannot come up with his diatribe pretty soon, won’t you? You have to give him some credit in formulating his nonsense come on: “New Musk funded, liberal newspace astroturf campaign descends on Texas. ” It ain’t half bad. “Strangers in a strange land.” Wow. Not sure what it means though. There are Texans from you know Texas working at SpaceX.

  • NASA Fan

    Anybody who thinks commercial HSF to LEO is going to reduce launch costs,,,well, just take a look over at the robotics side of the NASA house.

    They launch lots o stuff. There is plenty of demand. And what is bankrupting the robotic side of the house is escalating costs, outrageously escalated costs, of the launch vehicles. Or they plunge into the Ocean.

    Those robotic LV’s are commercially provided.

  • Justin Kugler

    Launch costs are not driving the development costs of Curiosity and JWST through the roof.

  • James T

    I wouldn’t exactly say they’re launching “lots o stuff.” They could be launching more stuff, BIGGER stuff and more ambitious stuff that just can’t get put on the table at this time because the SLS is sucking up funds.

    The Falcon Heavy’s proposed payload is 53 tons, and I imagine in the next few years we’ll be seeing some more heavy lifts readying for market. It’s been suggested FH could pull off a Mars sample return mission in only two launches. What about a rover for a more distant location like the moons of Jupiter? Make that rover a sample collector also and we’ll get something out there for the return when we have a better in-space propulsion maybe. I’m just shooting out ideas here, but my point is that we can really start to consider these types of missions if our launch costs for large payloads can continue to come down for both robotic and human launches.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ April 9th, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    “Jim H – Too true, Fir many Texans, dissing JSC is like dissing the Alamo, It’s just not done.”

    how far you have fallen is measured by the above statement.

    Only you would compare or draw a comparison or claim that “many Texans” have the comparison between a place where people sacrificed their lives in a fight for liberty and a place where the only fight by most is to maintain their government jobs and technowelfare.

    Very sad Mark

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    “The long-term goal of the TXA, though, is to get state legislators, and members of Congress, to think of space as something more than just NASA”

    Rick has his moments (like none of the rest of us do) but this is a really good goal.

    The NASA HSF that has existed since the lunar goal was announced is slowly dying…mostly by sheer incompetence of the folks who run it, and by a real lack of any serious mission that is explainable in under 30 seconds…

    Any politician that supports an effort (like Cx or a heavy lift version of shuttle) for no real reason, no reason other then Windy’s “great America” or whatever he is calling it now or Whittington’s obsession with the chinese taking the Moon over…is simply trying to maintain their pork, and that effort is floundering.

    Unless HSF becomes a commercial place then the entire thing will be over at some point and somepoint soon.

    Sadly I’ll be surprised if the effort works. Perry is less astute then Bush the last was (if that is possible) and the local politicians are going to hold on to the last pork dollar as long as they can. The trick is to be in position when the tide finally rolls the inertia over…and that day is coming.

    The last shuttle flight is close (1 or 2 more left) and when it happens thats pretty much the end of the NASA that has existed for 50 years.

    Robert G. Oler

  • red

    Here’s the approach I’d take:

    - support local state incentives to encourage space business in Texas
    - remove the SLS, which isn’t all that useful to Texas or JSC

    Use SLS savings to

    - encourage more modest “heavier lift” steps (ACES, Raptor, whatever – hold a competition with comparatively modest funding available) – some of this could be won by Texas companies
    - support commercial crew and cargo – this could be won by Texas companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, and would involve JSC work, too
    - increase the NASA human research budget
    - increase the ISS use budget
    - support the AR&D vehicle in support of flagship technology demonstrations, including the inflatable habitat at the ISS
    - support the inflatable habitat demonstration at the ISS
    - support the ECLSS technology demonstrations at the ISS
    - support a centrifuge at the ISS (a House proposal)
    - support a Node 4 and other augmentations to the ISS
    - encourage new services like micro reentry vehicles for the ISS

    All of these
    - are beneficial to Texas in terms of jobs
    - do work that is useful for exploration
    - are affordable
    - are useful to the nation beyond the exploration focus

    Without SLS, there would be funding left over to address the needs of other key states like Alabama (robotic precursor missions, greater EELV use), Florida (more launches of EELVs, Falcons, etc), and so on. There would probably be funding left to bolster Orion, too, if TX was so inclined.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    “Only you would compare or draw a comparison or claim that “many Texans” have the comparison between a place where people sacrificed their lives in a fight for liberty and a place where the only fight by most is to maintain their government jobs and technowelfare.”

    Oler, how was it that I knew that you would be clueless. One thing is for certain, Tumlinson may be the wrong guy to try to sell commercial space. But at least the TXA does not have you as a spokesman.

  • Lurker

    Neither Blue Origin or AA need help, both are doing quite well staying out of the spotlight and it appears the goal of the TXA is to do just that, put them in a spotlight as alternatives to the “bad” NASA folks. My contact at Blue Origin indicated that TXA charging in nearly messed up efforts to pass their bill by trying to offer an alternative. Yes, TXA was convinced to drop theirs, but it could have been a mess that would have undone a lot of work.

    The last thing needed in Texas is to force local politicians to take an either, I am for New Space or I support Old Space stance, creating a hostile environment for space firms. I really hope that the efforts of the TXA to help Blue Origin and AA won’t force both of them to leave Texas for a less hostile environment.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ April 10th, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Mark..you made the comparison…and on its face it is a goofy one Robert G. Oler

  • amightywind

    Last election, Musk made it a point to crassly remind Texas politicians who oppose him that he is a large employer in Texas. Such attempts at government ‘coopetition’ might work well in New York or California, like it has for other insiders in Obama’s crony inner circle, like Jeff Immelt. That Texas has a genuinely favorable business climate doesn’t occur to him. The GOP needs to take the gloves off.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Lurker wrote @ April 10th, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    “The last thing needed in Texas is to force local politicians to take an either, I am for New Space or I support Old Space stance, creating a hostile environment for space firms. I really hope that the efforts of the TXA to help Blue Origin and AA won’t force both of them to leave Texas for a less hostile environment.”

    you obviously are not from Texas….your statement might sound good but it is the latest variant of the Whittington comment “you are not for removing Saddam so you are for the terrorist”…

    A few points will put your mind at ease.

    1. Texas is a big state and most of the “new space” particularly in sub orbital or sub orbital want to be orbital someday are way out in West Texas. 5 jobs in West Texas mean more to a local politician then 500 in central Texas and no job in West Texas matters at all to a central texas (or South Central in the case of Houston) pol. There is no or little NASA business out west and so it is not an either or proposition.

    2. Even in central and south central Texas the JSC workforce and the various hangers on are not the calling card they use to be. The local pols have (painfully) come to grips with a few realities, the shuttle is ending and most are sort of resigned to the fact that there is not going to be a shuttle derived heavy lift. No one wants to really pay for the effort…and even in TX-22 there is not a lot of support for the notion.

    Pete O was in a “town hall” meeting recently, I went down to beat up on him for his near goofy stand on the F-35 alternate engine and while it was quite enjoyable watching him “fish out of water” on the F-35 the most impressive moment came when someone who was losing her job at CAL in the merger asked him why a job with USA was more important to him then her job. The odd thing, even in Clear Lake where the meeting was there was a lot of support for this person…as one person supporting this woman noted “our jobs pay taxes not be supported by them”.

    If Pete O and the rest of the gang (both GOP and Dem) could save a shuttle derived heavy lift, they would but the money is just to much and so they cant.

    Clear Lake will do just fine with the end of the shuttle and the drawdown of the workforce…

    As the shuttle goes away ANY jobs are going to be nice and so the notion that wow to get New Space going we have to support old space is goofy, as Paul Ryan says :”“We need a clean break from the politics of the past.”

    that is a line I am looking forward to beating up on old Pete on.

    This “save NASA save New Space” is just the last gasp of the old style politics and before long we can give it a Terry Schiavio (spell) moment, pull the plug bury the corpse and move on.

    Brother Tumlinson has his moments and I cringe at his notion of the “socialist” space program but he at least has the charm of not having changed his space politics or policy to suit a greater notion of politics as Whittington et al have done.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ April 10th, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    The GOP needs to take the gloves off.

    What, they should DISCOURAGE SpaceX from hiring more Texan’s and spending less money in Texas? What Republican would do that, and who would vote for them? A silly attempt at partisan politics on your part.

    Such attempts at government ‘coopetition’ might work…”

    I’m glad you’re trying to expand your vocabulary, but unfortunately you don’t understand the concepts behind this word. That’s not surprising of course, since you don’t seem to understand a lot of space-related concepts either… ;-)

  • Justin Kugler

    That attitude is precisely what is wrong with politics in this country today, windy. You’re no better than that which you claim to decry. Instead, you’re just the other side of the same old tired and well-worn coin.

    We should let ideas rise or fall on their technical and business merit. Neither the GOP nor the Democrats should be using the force of government to tip the scales unfairly.

    We need a level playing field for aerospace companies to compete to bring their best ideas forward so NASA can accomplish its purpose, as laid out in the Space Act.

  • Do you just make this stuff up as you go along, windy, or does someone pay you to post that nonsense?

    If ATK is doing so, it’s not only a waste of money, but counterproductive on a ten-to-one scale. But they haven’t show a great deal of political acumen so far…

  • Lurker

    Robert, I worked with all three spaceports and the Texas Aerospace Commission in the late 90’s and early 00’s so I am well familiar with Texas politics. I should also note I didn’t see you contributing your wisdom to the effort then.

    Yes, the influence of NASA is less, but it’s still concentrated in the Houston area while Jeff’s ranch is out in West Texas and AA/SpaceX are up at McGregor, so you have the ingredients for a geographic split. In the past this didn’t matter as there was no New Space/Old Space split. The elected officials were just interested in Texas Space and the space retaining its leadership role.

    Rick and his 1960’s era confrontational in your face advocacy will likely split the two parts of Texas and put them against one another, just at his Space Frontier Foundation’s promotion of the New Space/Old Space dichotomy has contributed the split at the national level. Nothing good will come out of such a split for Texas.

    Now I understand why groups like his like to push an “us versus them” agenda. Nothing motivates followers to dig into their pocketbooks and give more than the old “defeat the enemy” pitch, but such an attitude contributes nothing productive to the cause of creating a space faring society. That will only come from creating a stable and enlighten space policy based on consensus and compromise, not confrontation. Flipping space policy with administrations is why we are in this mess and in this mess we will stay until both sides bury the hatchet and find common ground. Groups like Rick’s, by keeping the New Space/Old Space battle flaming and spreading it to new fronts, will only delay that day.

  • J

    “Us vs. Them”…

    From the beginning it has seemed that it has been…
    A bunch of folks P.O’d that they are not getting the pork
    and by gosh… they are tired of seeing someone else
    get it… every body just seems to want more pork
    these days.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Lurker wrote @ April 11th, 2011 at 1:12 pm
    “Robert, I worked with all three spaceports and the Texas Aerospace Commission in the late 90’s and early 00’s so I am well familiar with Texas politics. I should also note I didn’t see you contributing your wisdom to the effort then.”

    Hello whoever you are! (grin)

    No I wasnt much interested in the Texas Aerospace Commission in the 90′s or now. But I do write under my own name and I was pretty heavily in the space policy debate in the 90′s (A very good piece published in 1999 The Weekly Standard (July) which I wrote while in Albania during OAF…Rich Kolker did the editing and Mark Whittington just got his name put on it), and have been heavily in the space debate since the mid 80′s. I took some time off in the 00′s I was in Iraq. But before I left I predicted HERE that the Bush lunar program would “frack” up and how and I was more or less right on the Mark. (sorry Whittington). And everyone else who predicted it would be fine was WRONG.

    Kolker and I belong to a small subset, we were invited to join SFF and passed. Brother Tunlinson has a unique style which as I noted chaffs me a bit as he rails on about the socialist program, but heck my style chaffs some folks (ask Pete O from 22…he didnt like my last apperance at one of his town halls). It saddens me that I am not universally loved, but it is a cross I have learned to bear or bare or just hold on to (grin)

    Anyway…moving on you wrote “Groups like Rick’s, by keeping the New Space/Old Space battle flaming and spreading it to new fronts, will only delay that day.”

    I dont think so.

    The reality is that “old space” ie the NASA big government, favorite contractor, keep all the people employed model works literally with NOTHING these days. Brewster the Rooster from Boeing is now out hand with cup begging for some program these days to keep his 800 people employed on some version of NASA heavy lift….without asking even the basic question “why do we need 800 people to build a heavy lift”?

    The foundation of “old space” is that “nothing” can survive without NASA human spaceflight done how NASA does it. Go ask the proponents and they will gleefully tell you that uncrewed exploration will die, all space efforts will die if NASA doesnt keep doing business like it has been…they never talk about NASA and its legacy contractors reforming, or even TRYING to do business another way. Every chance at doing business another way is toasted on the alter of “we have to keep what we have going”.

    And yet there is no proof of anything that they say. None. There is no proof that uncrewed exploration wont keep flying if NASA HSF takes a breather (in fact there is a lot of proof to the contrary)…and there is a lot of proof that things can be done without the 15000 people it took to keep three shuttles flying…and NOT MUCH ELSE can be done while feed those 15000 people.

    At some point if you want different results you have to really do things differently and that includes new structures and essentially killing the old structures.

    Here is the reality. NASA HSF and its way of doing business LEFT ALONE WILL DIE. There is no support, not even in TX22 to keep the old ways…and there is no money. NASA HSF proved that with Cx…10 billion dollars and they couldnt get a darn thing flyable (much as I predicted here before I left country…go search the archieves you will find I predict that they will squander closer to 15 bill…and they would have left alone). It has been proven that on a lot less, NASA could have gotten something flying. Sorry.

    Right now the old way is slike a drowning person who never learned to swim…they are clinging to everything and everyone (the Chinese taking over the Moon, national greatness, now “New space cant survive without us) that might get them some funding. I regret the words Rick uses and that might limit his personal effectivness…but it is no worse then the babble Whittington did on this forum on this thread and it wont matter. There is not going to be in less then a year any “old sapce” to cling to. That effort is dying.

    Robert G. Oler

    I

  • Robert G. Oler

    Brother Tunlinson

    it should be “Brother Tumlinson” I mistyped the name. My apologies it was not intentional and was in error.

    Robert G. Oler

  • I am glad that people are waking up to the fact that NASA is now on the sidelines and that the private industry is out on the field.

  • Rick Tumlinson has an editorial in today’s Houston Chronicle about New Space:

    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/7524990.html

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