NASA Invests in Private Sector Space Flight with SpaceX, Rocketplane-KistlerNASA is making an unprecedented investment in commercial space transportation services with the hope of creating a competitive market for supply flights to the International Space Station (ISS).
Two industry partners will receive a combined total of approximately $500 million to help fund the development of reliable, cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit. The agency is using its Space Act authority to facilitate the demonstration of these new capabilities. NASA signed Space Agreements Aug. 18 with Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of El Segundo, Calif., and Rocketplane-Kistler (RpK) of Oklahoma City to develop and demonstrate the vehicles, systems, and operations needed to support a human facility such as ISS. Once the space shuttle is retired, NASA hopes to become just one of many customers for a new, out-of-this-world parcel service.
Image at right: Artist's concept of Rocketplane-Kistler's K-1 Orbital Vehicle. Credit NASA
The venture marks a break with tradition for the 48-year-old space agency. “This is the first opportunity NASA has taken to engage entrepreneurs in a way that allows us to satisfy our needs and lets commercial industry gain a foothold. It could, and should, have profound impacts on the way NASA does business, ” said Marc Timm, acting Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Program executive in NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.
Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center, said NASA's offer of seed money fulfills President Bush's Jan. 14, 2004 directive to promote commercial participation in space exploration. The 2005 NASA Authorization Act also calls on the agency to advance space commerce. "We are directly tied to the Vision for Space Exploration and the law of the land, " Lindenmoyer said. "COTS marks a significant NASA activity to implement the commercialization portion of U.S. space policy."
The demonstrations are scheduled to begin as early as 2008 and continue through 2010 or later. COTS will be carried out in two phases. Phase 1, unveiled Aug. 18, will include safe disposal or return of spacecraft that successfully dock at ISS and deliver cargo. A follow-on option to demonstrate crew transportation also is planned. Once demonstrated, NASA plans to purchase transportation services competitively in Phase 2.
Image at left: Artist's concept of SpaceX's Falcon 9 Launch Vehicle and Dragon crew and cargo capsules. Credit NASA
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