Date: June 18, 2010

Title: A Spaceport of Her Own


Podcaster: Dr. Alex “Sandy” Antunes

Organization: Antunes, Project Calliope LLC –

Description: Setting up a privace rocket site in the remote Tropics sounds like a movie supervillain plan, but Randa Milliron of InterOrbital Systems ( explains why it’s the best way to get us to orbit and beyond.

Bio: Sandy looks at the science and the people in today’s 9-5 pro astronomy world. Born in the heart of a dying star (as we were all), Alex draws from his research, writing, and game design work to bring you the joy of science twice a week at— and to launch the first personal science/music satellite via

Today’s sponsor: “Between the Hayabusa homecoming from Itokawa and the Rosetta flyby of asteroid Lutetia, 13 June until 10 July 2010, this episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored anonymously and dedicated to the memory of Annie Cameron, designer of the Tryphena Sun Wheel, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand, a project that remains to be started.”

Additional sponsorship for this episode of 365 Days of Astronomy is provided by Chuck McCorvey.


[Sandy intro] Welcome to another segment with the Daytime Astronomer. I’m Dr. Sandy Antunes and you can read me twice a week at under ‘the Satellite Diaries’. I’m going to be presenting a section of an interview with Randa Milliron, the CEO of InterOrbital Systems. They’re the TubeSat people, and I’m launching a satellite with them, the project, ‘Music from Space’. This segment had several possible titles- ‘From Paradise to Outer Space’, ‘To Titan’, ‘She Owns a Rocket Company’. We’re going to be talking about the hows and whys of having your own private spaceport in this segment on 365DaysofAstronomy. Now, we’re going to go into this somewhat abruptly, I apologize for the phone quality audio for it, but it’s four and a half minutes of crunchy sci tech goodness. Enjoy.

[Sandy] The motto at NASA for a while was better/faster/cheaper with, of course, the quip being “pick any 2”, do you think all 3 are achievable: better/faster/cheaper?

[Randa] I think they are achievable, that’s the mantra in many industries, but in terms of one’s approach, in our case I believe we’ve come up with a magic triangle of our own here. Which is a low cost rocket that’s the result of a radical systems simplification. We also operate a private space port– our space port is in the Kingdom of Tonga.

[Sandy] Ah, the Tonga one! Why Tonga, other than its location on the equator?

[Randa] As you mention, it’s perfect geographically, and we have friends in Tonga. It’s a place that really really looks delicious in many problems, in terms of space launch. And if you look at what it costs to launch out of a federal space port, or the national space port at any major country, it’s many millions of dollars. And when you’re launching a rocket that costs a fraction of that, how do you actually achieve affordable space launch for clear customers if you’re burdened with these other incidental costs? Plus you’re thrown into a launch rotation that could keep you waiting for years to do launch. And in our case, we’ll be able to do launch on demand, we found out that was absolutely essential, that was an essential component. We first looked at ocean launching, that was another option for us, but we’re doing land launches from Tonga starting, as I said, this year.

[Sandy] Now the joke was that no rocket in the US launches until there’s a stack of paperwork equal to its height. Is that something that Tonga manages to let you escape, either due to governance or even just geography and reduced liability?

[Randa] Well, we don’t escape the paperwork because, as US citizens, we have to launch under a US launch license. And actually we’re going into Washington to begin, let us say officially begin the process of getting the orbital launch license, and that’s be sometime in April. So, in terms of liability, the AST [FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation] likes our concept of launching in low populated zones, like the ocean.

[Sandy] I’m told that the biggest advantage of ocean launch is, without any industry or people to worry about damaging…

[Randa] Exactly. It makes your problem simpler. It’s very popular…

[Sandy] Well, fundamental risk is lower, it’s not just the insurance impression on it.

[Randa] Yes, that’s exactly right, no population centers no big infrastructures.

[Sandy] I just don’t want to seem like we’re preying on the third world here. The risks are genuinely lower, it’s not that they don’t charge for it.

[Randa] That’s not even the case. We like the idea of also having a spaceport in a resort, and for us something exotic in the South Pacific is very very exciting. Our kind of a tag line on that is, “from paradise to outer space”. We’re strictly interested in orbital launch, I mentioned that you before, there are suborbital programs and orbital programs. We are strictly orbital and interplanetary. The only suborbital things we do are basically to test our components.

[Sandy] So it’s orbital, then the moon, then planets?

[Randa] Yes, I think it’s low earth orbit, then the moon.

[Sandy] So you mentioned the resort, if I want to head on out for the first TubeSat launch, are you folks going to be able to help me make the hotel bookings then?

[Randa] (laughs) I’ll tell you that it’s a remote area, so be prepared to rough it!

[Sandy] Excellent, sounds like fun.

[Randa] Roughing it in a tropical sense is a good idea.

[Sandy] To wrap it up, say you’re in a noisy pub and someone comes up to you and says ‘what do you do?’, what’s your quick answer to impress them?

[Randa] I run a rocket company. That’s it… it’s impressive to me!

[Sandy] And where do you want to be in 10 years?

[Randa] Oh, maybe Titan? We often talk about the fact that, if we actually get to the point where we’re doing atomic rockets– which is actually our goal– single stage to Titan will be a reality. So for us we have long-term, far-ranging goals.

[Sandy] Well, thank you very much for your time!

[Randa] Thank you, Sandy, and good luck with the TubeSat, we’re waiting to hear that ‘music from space’.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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