The U.S. commercial space transportation industry celebrated its 10th
anniversary this year and is looking at a bright future—a future Beal plans
The recent boom in satellite-based telecommunications has sent the
demand for launch vehicles soaring. Earth imaging and weather tracking
are already big business. New space-based technologies such as CD-quality
radio transmission are in development, and they will need launch services,
further increasing demand.
“This is a very, very young industry, and the potential for growth
is huge,” says Marco Caceres, space analyst at the Teal Group, a Fairfax-based
consulting firm for the aerospace and defense industries. He predicts there
will be 850-900 space launches that will generate $49.5 billion in business
between 2000 and 2009.
1998 was the single biggest year yet for the domestic space industry,
with 22 commercial launches. The FAA—which licenses all rockets and rocket
launches from U.S. territory and all launches by U.S.-based companies—expects
the industry to match or exceed that number in 2000. Only three companies—Boeing,
Lockheed Martin, and Orbital Services—currently have FAA approval to conduct
commercial space launches.
That leaves a lot of room for competition, and Beal is ready to rumble.
His weapon of choice is the BA-2, a three-stage, 200-foot-tall rocket
with a 25-foot-tall, 20-foot-diameter payload compartment. For the aerospace
uninitiated—that’s a big rocket that can boost a lot of hardware into space.
And the bigger the payload, the bigger the payoff.
Beal believes the BA-2 will blast him past any competitors, leaving
them eating his rocket fuel fumes. Beal is going back to an old concept,
namely, using hydrogen peroxide and kerosene to fuel his rockets. When
the hydrogen peroxide oxidizes, it ignites the kerosene, so Beal is able
to eliminate the cost of developing and producing an ignition system for
his rocket. An environment-friendly fringe benefit is that hydrogen peroxide
breaks down into hydrogen and water.
He scrapped plans for a smaller rocket (which would lift smaller payloads)
in favor of the BA-2 when he became convinced the market will need the
bigger rocket by the time he is ready to launch in about two years.
It’s not the first time Beal has altered his plans for Beal Aero-space.
Originally, he envisioned starting a satellite company. In 1995 he was
presiding over a very profitable bank when he read an article about
the growing satellite business. As a self-described space buff, he was
intrigued. But the process and cost of getting a satellite into orbit was
Hmmmm, the cost of getting a satellite into orbit. The cost of getting
a satellite into orbit...
The ember of an idea sparked by that solitary magazine article flashed
into the blaze that doesn’t drive Beal so much as lures him, entices him—and,
by proxy, kindles enthusiasm in those around him.
So what that the market is dominated by Lockheed and Boeing? “Andy
relishes the opportunity to compete against the entrenched players,” says
Beal’s friend, Brad Oates, vice chairman of Bluebonnet Savings and Loan.
Beal started a two-year course of independent research—he read books,
toured aerospace facilities, consulted with engineers, observed launches—that
culminated in the founding of Beal Aerospace in 1997. It is the third business
he has started in the Dallas area, and Beal says it will be his last.