Business Week: on commercial manned spaceflight

Status
Not open for further replies.
D

docm

Guest
Link.....

Commercial Space Flight: NASA May Get Onboard

The agency has given SpaceX and Orbital Sciences $500 million to see if they can deliver cargo to the space station safely for less than it costs NASA


On the 40th anniversary of the successful U.S. mission to the moon, proud celebrations took place to recognize the accomplishments by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration. There was even a well-timed space mission, with NASA's Space Shuttle blasting off to carry additional gear to the International Space Station, the research facility that orbits 220 miles above the Earth's surface.

Still, the NASA of today is struggling to live up to its storied past. The Shuttle program, for example, has been plagued by chronic cost overruns and delays. The Shuttle will be retired next year, even though it will be at least five years before the successor Ares rocket will be available to take American astronauts into space. NASA faces the humbling prospect of hitching rides to the space station with the Russians for the next few years. "The Space Shuttle was looked at as a great advance, but it never lived up to expectations," said Jeffrey Hoffman, a former NASA astronaut and professor of astronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The agency looks headed for a course correction. The White House has set up a blue-ribbon commission to help decide the future direction of manned flight. Headed by Norman Augustine, a former chief executive of defense contractor Lockheed Martin (LMT), the group plans to deliver several broad options to the Obama Administration by the end of August. Augustine, in a press briefing earlier this month, said the commission will "take a fresh independent look and go where the facts lead."

refocusing NASA on long-term R&D?

One option under serious consideration is whether NASA should tap the private sector more actively. Since its founding, the agency has done the heavy lifting in space exploration largely by itself—conceiving of missions, designing rockets, and executing flights. Companies such as Boeing (BA), Alliant Techsystems (ATK), and Lockheed Martin simply built spacecraft to NASA's specs. Some experts argue that NASA should lean on private companies more heavily, perhaps to design rockets or execute such mundane missions as shuttling supplies up to the International Space Station. "The commercial sector could have a much bigger role," says Keith Cowling, editor of a Web site called NASA Watch, which monitors agency projects. "But NASA has to be willing to give up its monopoly on manned space flight. And that's the big question."

NASA declined to comment specifically. But Augustine has said his commission is looking at the prospect of greater private sector involvement. The idea is that NASA could accomplish more with its existing $17.3 billion budget if it could focus on the most important issues, such as setting ambitious goals and investing in long-term research and development and executing the goal of putting a man on Mars.

>>
one-third the cost per mission?

SpaceX is participating in a pilot program that may help determine how much the private sector gets involved with NASA. Musk's company and Orbital Sciences (ORB) have received $500 million to see if they can develop technology to deliver cargo to the space station. The two companies need to prove their capability with three demonstration flights by the end of 2010. If they're successful, NASA will pay each company $1.6 billion to run 12 cargo missions to the space station through 2015. The $133 million cost per flight would be less than one-third NASA's cost for such missions.

>>
Musk is already looking beyond ferrying supplies into space. In a presentation to the Augustine Commission, he argued that SpaceX could be ready to transport people to the space station within two years. "We are close to making crew transport a reality," he says. Musk estimates that NASA will pay the Russian space agency about $50 million for each American astronaut. "That money could be better applied here at home—and we could do it for a lot less."

David Hastings, a professor of astronautics at MIT, says he hopes that a commercial space industry does emerge. If companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences can figure out a way to profit by helping the U.S. space effort, he believes it will help NASA push farther into space. "We are on the cusp of some historic shifts," he says.
 
J

justinc210

Guest
For a soon to be graduating mechanical engineer, this is good news. I really want to go into aerospace, but I have been concerned that the jobs just won't be there. Part of the reason that the aerospace industry is so up and down is because it is largely driven by government contracts. More commercialization and a shift to the public sector will mean that these companies like SpaceX, and Aerojet will see a steady source of income...unless I am mistaken.
 
B

Booban

Guest
It is not yet a real market that can be open to market forces. Buying services from the public sector will just let them gouge you for prices in the end (not at the start, thats the lure).

How many companies can the space station support? They'll will all have to be given 'routes' to the station so that all remain viable and no one company can be too successful, all of which means its not really a competitive environment. If one of them explodes, the public will demand action either shutting them down or demanding extra maintenance or new development which will make everything expensive again. And what happens when the station is deorbited?

It will be the same thing as United Launch Alliance joint venture with Boeing and Lockheed. There's not enough to go around, so they 'competitors' teamed up.

If private companies are going to be ferrying people to space stations, then they should build the station and hire rooms out to other companies too.
 
D

docm

Guest
That is how Bigelow wants to do it; build the station and lease out modules to specific customers, be they companies or non-space fairing countries.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.