Commercial Deep Space Development

Robotic and human exploration missions are the path finders for mankind’s roles in deep space. However, for mankind to have a sustainable future in deep space there must be a commercial benefit to offset the development and operation costs. The commercial satellite business is an example of this basic requirement for sustainability as signified by the success of Arianespace. Recently entrepreneurs Asteroid Resources and Deep Space Industries announce plans for deep space commercial ventures. These ventures will remain dreams of grandeur until our limited space development resources are redirected to the development of an affordable commercial space transportation system with significant payload return to earth capability. The SLS has none of these attributes.

The predicted average commercial medium to heavy launches for the next ten years is 11 per year. The Commercial Space System (CSS) has the potential to capture a majority of these launches by offering the unique capability of satellite on-orbit checkout before release and returning faulty satellites for repair. Once the space tug is operational satellites can be serviced on-orbit or retrieve. The CSS can offer tourist flights to reduce cost of cargo delivery.

Space Launch System/Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Versus Commercial Space System


Launch Cost $2.78b$1.1b
Development Cost Estimate$38b$7.8b
Operational Availability20172017
Crew SafetyPoorGood
Commercial ApplicationsNoYes
Payload Return CapabilityNoYes
Maximum Launches/Year212
Military ApplicationsNoYes
Space Based SupportPossibleYes
Vehicle Upgrade PotentialLimitedExcellent
Launch Fails Mission FailsYesNo


It is mandatory that this nation’s 21st century space transportation system reduce launch operations costs. The two keys factors for reducing launch cost operations is the removal of NASA (government operations) from the control of space flight operations and introducing reusable vehicles for launch, near earth, and deep space transportation. This space transportation plan is an evolutionary process for establishing reusable launch and space based vehicles. In the near term existing expendable space transportation vehicles would supplement space transportation requirements. This is the only viable concept that can provide a feasible and realistic launch system in the foreseeable future. Its development is a mandatory requirement to provide a safe human transportation system. Key to this plan is the long range roadmap that provides direction to NASA and the aerospace community. The development schedule will accelerate or decrease as the needs for exploration requirements dictate. Unlike the SLS/MPCV, the CSS provides a stair step approach outlining the strategic plan for four decades. To get somewhere…we’ve got to know where we’re going.” The funding available may cause the schedule to vary, but the direction is clear.

What is the Commercial Space System (CSS)?

The CSS uses the remanufactured orbiter airframe, external tank, and SRM boosters. The orbiter is updated with subsystem components that are quickly replaceable modules to reduce vehicle turnaround time. Computer software and hardware is upgraded and the vehicle is operation without inflight piloting requirements. Crews will be flown only on missions requiring their support for onboard payloads or to be transferred to space based vehicles. On crewed missions the crew escape pods will be installed. The entry thermal protection system will have on orbit repair capability and advanced X-37 program improved tiles. Pad assembly of the space shuttle will also reduce operations cost and turnaround time. Rapid turn-around is a unique CSS feature and which supports the military requirement and provide the capability of timely intercepts of asteroids/comets that may impact earth.

The deep space vehicles will initially be unmanned space based tugs. They are a key factor for reducing mission cost and increasing mission success. Tugs can be supplied by the shuttle and expendable launch vehicles. Tugs can support near earth, lunar, and deep space missions.

Russian Space Based Tug
Russian Space Based Tug

This proposed Russian vehicle called the Parom is a space based inter-orbit “tug”. Future space based tugs can conduct the following missions at significantly reduce operation cost and reduced chance of mission failure.


The space tugs are the first step to establishing a “Star Trek Enterprise” space cruiser for deep space exploration and commercial ventures. NASA’s future is in the development of these space based vehicles to be operated by the commercial sector…not in obsolete Apollo class heavy lift launch vehicles.