Press Release

Space Access 2019 marks return of conference on affordable, reliable access to space

By SpaceRef Editor
April 2, 2019
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The space industry is feeling seismic shifts in the technologies and economics of launching and operating Earth-orbiting satellites. While casual observers greet these trends with surprise and excitement, radical reduction in the cost of launch has long been a key objective of the Space Access Conference. The track record of conference participants in fostering these changes underscores how seriously they take this.  After a two-year hiatus, Space Access is back, with this year’s epicenter moved west.

For decades, engineers and rocket designers converged each spring in Phoenix, Arizona, to share progress made and lessons learned in building and operating lower-cost rockets. They know progress when they see it. As a result, Space Access has attracted participants from the amateur/activist community, aerospace companies large and small, NASA, the FAA, and elsewhere in government. It was a gathering place for teams in pursuit of the X-Prize and Lunar Lander Challenge Prize when these were underway, but always of people in pursuit of lower-cost space access and operations.

Run by the Space Access Society (SAS), the conference was always kept closely focused, single track, low cost, and content-rich. The limited days of the conference ran long, leaving attendees saturated with information, networking, shared ideas, and new collaborations.

That was 1994 to 2016. Then SAS’s founder announced there would be no more conferences until new, lower-stress arrangements could be made. Alumni of the conference were stunned. But the door was left open for reorganization and alternate locations. In late 2018, SAS announced it was partnering with the Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society (ERPS), located in the San Francisco Bay Area, to produce the next iteration of Space Access conference there, over April 18-21, 2019.

The Bay Area can be a far more expensive place to operate than Phoenix, but it’s also home to Silicon Valley’s startups and venture capital as well as NASA Ames and its surrounding aerospace community. Local support so far has been very encouraging, while the regional and national response to date shows a continuing appetite for what this conference provides.

2019 is a good year to be rebooting Space Access. While there are many more space companies now than existed just 5 years ago, building transportation is still not the low-hanging fruit investors flock to first. Rocket start-ups both well-funded and still working on it will be presenting at the conference. There are more engineers, craftsmen, and masters of managing complexity than ever coming this year to share their visions and figure out how to make them real.

As always, the schedule is packed and the pace is fast, with presenters hitting their high points followed by public Q&A interaction with the well-informed audience and private in-depth networking. Conference days typically run from nine in the morning to ten at night.  The conference skips formal luncheon or dinner talks, instead scheduling short mid-session and longer on-your-own meal breaks so that participants can network in the halls, in the adjacent Exhibits/Hospitality area, or over private meals at the nearby restaurants.

This year, now that reducing the cost of getting to orbit is finally starting to happen, the conference is refocusing on the exploding new field of custom-orbit launch for smallsats, on the coming next outward wave of reusable cislunar transportation networks, and on the eventual transition to advanced propulsion to drastically cut travel times to the rest of the solar system – and beyond.

If it sounds a little like science fiction, it may be because certain leading space planners and thinkers over the years took to the medium to share their ideas. In particular, one of the panel discussions remembers the key role of writer/thinker Jerry Pournelle in setting the stage for the current commercial space revolution.

Here is a sampling of the better-known speakers and companies:

  • Rocket Lab, a US start-up with manufacturing and launch pad in New Zealand, has made four successful launches to orbit.  The most recent was on March 28, carrying an experimental payload for DARPA. Senior mission manager Amanda Stiles will discuss their “Electron Launcher and the Multi-Burn Kick Stage”.
  • Grant Bonin is former CTO of Deep Space Industries (DSI), acquired last year by Bradford Space. DSI had many fans among those who dreamed of asteroid mining to jumpstart space-based economies. He intends to discuss asteroid mining lessons from the private sector: “what worked, what didn’t, and what’s next”. 
  • EXOS Aerospace recently tested its SARGE reusable suborbital vehicle. Key members of its team worked for Armadillo Aerospace, which won Level 1 of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge in 2008, and later began development of a recoverable high-altitude sounding rocket.
  • Vector has been conducting tests in California’s Mojave Desert and Camden, Georgia. Company VP Greg Orndoff will provide an update on their launch vehicle. Formed by veterans of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas, Sea Launch, and VMware, the company is targeting on-demand launch of small payloads.
  • SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit, currently has its spacecraft “Beresheet” (meaning, “in the beginning”) on a trajectory to the Moon. It was one of the entrants in the now defunct Google Lunar X Prize competition. If all goes well, it will land on the Moon April 11, a few days before the conference.
  • Jeff Greason was propulsion manager at Rotary Rocket and co-founder and CEO/CTO of XCOR Aerospace. He was a member of the Augustine Commission, appointed to review post-Shuttle human spaceflight options. Now CTO at his newest company, he will discuss Electric Sky’s vision of wireless power to enable orbital launch vehicles and its terrestrial commercial applications.
  • Dave Masten is founder and CTO of Masten Space Systems. His company won Level 2 of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge in 2009.  It has since provided a lunar lander testbed for guidance and control systems built by other groups, and has worked with ULA on the XEUS Centaur-derived lander concept. In late 2018, the company was awarded a NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services contract.
  • The Space Studies Institute (SSI), founded in the 1970s by physicist Gerard O’Neill, is preparing for the 50th anniversary of O’Neill’s High Frontier vision, considered the archetype of large settlements in space. Whereas Space Access focuses on how to affordably get to space, SSI focuses on how to effectively operate and live there.
  • “How To Save Civilization And Make A Little Money, or, This Is All Jerry’s Fault.” While Jerry Pournelle was popularly known as a science fiction writer and computer columnist, he worked in operations research in military and aerospace arenas, and branched out into electoral politics before settling on writing as his day job. Panelists and audience members who knew him will recall his influential activist role in setting the stage for the modern commercial space industry.
  • Jim Muncy, founder of the PoliSpace independent space policy consultancy, will report on prospective FAA rule changes for launch and reentry, and the happenings in the Washington space scene. He has worked as congressional staff and as a White House staff liaison on space policy.
  • Pete Worden, formerly center director of NASA Ames, is now chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, where he oversees among other things the Breakthrough Starshot project aimed at proof-of-concept technology for propelling nano-starprobes to 20% of lightspeed. He will discuss “what we might do with a StarShot capability”. He led the NASA/DoD Clementine mission studying the Moon, and retired as a USAF Brigadier General before taking up leadership of NASA Ames.

While early bird registration discounts are over, regular-rate Space Access 2019 registration is available online until April 12th – Yuri’s Night, when space enthusiasts remember the flight of Yuri Gagarin, the first human to fly in space and orbit the Earth. (See the website for further details: After the 12th, registration is at-door only at the conference location, the Fremont Marriott Silicon Valley, 46100 Landing Parkway, Fremont, CA 94538. Registration opens in the Main Ballroom foyer at 8 am on Thursday, April 18th.

About the Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society (ERPS): Founded in 1993, ERPS is a non-profit (501(c)(3)) scientific and educational society focused on the design, construction, and test of liquid fuel rocket engines, and disseminating that “nuts-and-bolts” knowledge of rocket science to speed the arrival of truly routine access to space.

About the Space Access Society (SAS): Founded in 1992 to focus on radically reducing the cost of access to space, SAS ran the Space Access Conference from 1994 to 2016, published Space Access Updates with current events and policy analysis for much of that time, and may yet again. The venerable Space Access Society website ( is a treasure trove for those wanting to discover some of the new commercial space race’s antecedents going back to the early nineties.

SpaceRef staff editor.