Researching at the edge of space

By Phil Plait | March 18, 2010 8:00 am

nsrc2010logo_cropI recently attended a conference in Boulder, and I have to admit that before I went I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Now I do, and I’m very glad I went.

The meeting was the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference 2010 (NSRC2010), and its goal was to figure out how best to exploit an upcoming revolution in space travel: private companies making suborbital launches to the very edge of space.

Space, in this case, is defined as being 100 km (62 miles) above the Earth’s surface. There, the atmosphere is incredibly thin, which has obvious benefits for astronomical observations (less turbulence blurring images, darker skies to see faint objects, less air to absorb ultraviolet and infrared light). But perhaps just as importantly, the planned flights will have up to three full minutes of microgravity — what is popularly but inaccurately called weightlessness or "zero g".

That’s where my initial skepticism came in. What can you do with only a few minutes of free fall? Well, it turns out you can do a lot. There are a host of biological, engineering, and astronomical experiments that can be run in this environment, ones that would be far too prohibitively expensive to do on, for example, a Shuttle mission.

virgingalactic_ss2

But this next generation of rockets from Virgin Galactic (Richard Branson’s effort with Space Ship 2, a model of which is pictured above), Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos from Amazon.com), and others will reach a height making a lot of this science possible. The region up to 100 km is too high to reach by balloon, and too low for orbital rockets, which is why it’s been dubbed "the ignorosphere". But it has its uses…

Observations of the Sun, for example, may not need much time to do because (you may have noticed) the Sun is pretty bright, so a three or four minute flight is enough to get some good data. The way incoming energy from the Sun couples with the Earth’s atmosphere is not hugely well understood, and a lot of it happens in this region high above the planet’s surface. Effects of low gravity on the human body can be tested, as well as on plants and other biological systems.

In fact, enough science can be done on these trips that the conference itself brought in 250 people interested in the topic. I was surprised at how many people came, as were the conference planners themselves: they were expecting half that many.

But there’s a lot of confidence here. Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator, gave a keynote talk, saying that NASA will pledge $15 million per year to this new field of research in the new budget (pending approval by Congress). Alan Stern, an astronomer and conference organizer, announced that Southwest Research Institute, for whom he works, will put up $1 million of its own money for researchers to fly into space, too!

Given that each flight will cost something like $200,000, this is a pretty decent pool of money to investigate the ignorosphere. That may sound like a lot, but in fact a lot of scientific grants are in this range; a few years back I had my own personal research grant on Hubble that was for more than $40,000, and while I was at Sonoma State University our small team routinely applied for educational grants for $50k and more. Getting $200k for a flight is well within the reach of a lot of researchers. Of course, they’ll need more to cover equipment and such, but compare that to the millions upon millions needed for an orbital flight, or even several million for a sounding rocket, and you start to see that this is a pretty good deal.

NASA itself can use this sort of thing as well, testing equipment and new technology to see how it behaves. This is a whole lot cheaper than putting something up on the Space Shuttle (or on the next generation of orbital rockets).

It was exciting to sit and listen to all the buzz about this new, intermediate frontier. But as interesting as the science was, there was something more important going on at this conference. Something that, I suspect very strongly, will change the way we look at space travel.

And that will be the topic of my next post on this. Stay tuned.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Science, Space

Comments (37)

  1. Not to mention the little bonus: They´ll make science as science officers of the VSS Enterprise.

  2. Krikkit

    Ignorosphere? Who made that up? Thousands of scientific payloads are launched on sounding rockets every year into this part of the atmosphere. If anything it is over-studied. It is almost impossible to come up with an idea for a sounding rocket payload that hasn’t been done hundreds of times before.

    And I am not too sure about practical astronomy applications for this either. I assume that all the flights will be flying by day, for the view, so if you wanted to fly out of the earth shine you would need to hire the whole ship (6 × 200,000 ). If you ever watch the documentary Black Sky, which I recommend everyone does, it appears as if it would be too bright for astronomy. Maybe with long exposure times you can make out some objects, but I think that would be very difficult inside a spacecraft tumbling across the upper atmosphere on its way back to earth.

  3. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Observations of the Sun, for example, may not need much time to do because (you may have noticed) the Sun is pretty bright, so a three or four minute flight is enough to get some good data. The way incoming energy from the Sun couples with the Earth’s atmosphere is not hugely well understood, and a lot of it happens in this region high above the planet’s surface.

    Cool but, er .. isn’t that what the Solar Dynamics Observatory is for? Isn’t studying our Sun covered already better by the SDO & SOHO to name just two plus Kitt Peak & other ground based solar observatories as well?

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Solar_Observatory)

    It all sounds good – but when will it happen or should that more like *if* it will happen?

    That’s where my initial skepticism came in. What can you do with only a few minutes of free fall? Well, it turns out you can do a lot.

    But ..um .. not for long. :-)

  4. Ferris Valyn

    Plutonium being from Pluto

    Regarding the SDO – new instrumentation gets developed, which provides more data. Don’t think 1 single satellite will answer all our questions.

    Also, why are you so sure that its an if, rather than a when? Its one thing to be skeptical when its a few guys in a garage talking about it. But when the first set of vehicles are built, and there are subsequent vehicles being built, I think the time for skepticism has passed.

    As for when – I suspect we’ll see first flight of it within a year, 2 at most.

  5. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ 3. Ferris Valyn :

    why are you so sure that its an if, rather than a when?

    Sure? No I’m not sure – but a lot of people have talked and planned things as far as private space groups are concerned and, as far as I’m aware, not much solid has come from it yet.

    I’d *like* it to work, I’d love to see it happen & really come to something – so I hope you are right but history does seem to tell us otherwise. Apart from a brief sub-orbital flight or two by Rutan’s SpaceShip One what have private space companies actually accomplished?

    when the first set of vehicles are built, and there are subsequent vehicles being built, I think the time for skepticism has passed.

    Once they’ve flown & taken payloads and people up there – then I’ll be convinced. Two years eh? We’ll have to wait & see. As I said, I hope your right.

  6. I would prefer the dollars go toward investigating the moronosphere.

    //obscure movie reference

  7. Ferris Valyn

    Plutonium being from Pluto

    You asked what has Private space done beyond the SS1 flights

    1. There are the 2 flights from the Falcon 1
    2. There are the 2 prototype space stations from Bigelow Aerospace
    3. There is the multiple rocketplanes from XCOR (true, they didn’t get out of the atmosphere, but don’t think building a rocketplane is easy)
    4. There is the various VTVLs that Armadillo Aerospace has built and flown (Scorpius & Pixel & the like), which allowed them to win 2 government prizes
    5. There is the Goddard test vehicle (a HUGE vehicle) that Blue Origin has built and flown
    6. There is the Xombie & Xoie vehicles that Masten has built, & successfully flown (and used to win 2 government prizes)

    And all of this excludes the things done by OldSpace companies (such as the Pegasus rocket that OSC did, or the EELVs)

    They’ve done quite a bit, even if you leave out traditional space companies.

    Its time to start taking this seriously

  8. Steve Ulven

    Hmmm… That looks a little (okay, a lot) like Farscape 1.

  9. Cheyenne

    This sounds like the kind of thing a skeptic of traditional human spaceflight could support. Low cost, private competition, a massive reduction in waste….goodness….this actually sounds pretty cool!

  10. Gary Ansorge

    This would be an excellent place to test and use externally powered craft, such as the micro wave powered craft envisioned in Leik Myrabos’ LightCraft. In the lower atmosphere, you use air as your reaction mass. In the “ignoroscope” realm, onboard reaction mass could be H2. The advantage of this type of craft is a that the majority of the crafts mass (for power generation) remains on the ground, greatly extending the time aloft and altitude.

    Gary 7

  11. “What can you do with only a few minutes of free fall?”

    You can do a lot in only a few seconds, as is the case in fall towers.

  12. Ad Hominid

    I’ve thought for some time that Spaceship2 and similar suborbital developments would represent a partial alternative to the sounding rockets that have conducted this kind of research since the 1940s.
    For those who don’t know, sounding rockets are a very big deal with launches every day in various parts of the world. There are many, many types, ranging from very small devices a skilled amateur could build to converted Minuteman missiles. In fact, this is the primary destination for retired missiles, with such elderly types as the Nike series and the Hawk still doing research duty.

  13. Oded

    Could someone explain to me how several minutes of microgravity can be so significant, when there are YEARS of microgravity available in the ISS? What am I missing? Is it harder to transport things/experiments to the ISS? Is the fact that it IS just a few minutes what makes it so different from the ISS where you can’t stop the microgravity until the next visit several months later?
    In general I don’t understand why I hear so LITTLE of the ISS. At least in theory, it sounds like a super cool super amazing project, where you can do thousands of really important and interesting experiments, I would think including astronomical observations, yet I don’t think I ever hear anything about the ISS… What is the failing point?

  14. Jason

    Oded
    I would venture that
    1)Getting to the ISS is REALLY expensive.
    2)There is a LOT of demand and very little space and man-power available. That makes running experiments expensive.
    3) It appears that in a lot of cases only a few minutes is Really needed. The rest can then be extrapolated from the recorded data. Sure there are experiments that require long term exposure to free-fall conditions but quite a few that do not require it.
    4)The ISS as cool as it is is a political creation full of compromises and thus is not the fully competent science powerhouse it could be.

  15. I had a conversation with Richard Garriott, the worlds first second-generation astronaut, a couple of months ago. He told me how commercial space flight could be economically viable for almost anyone. Despite the seemingly high costs of spaceflight, it could be possible to do sponsored work in space; enough so that not only could the cost of the flight be covered, but that a profit could be realized. Flight fees to the ISS are still too high now, but if it could be lowered to $1 or $2 million, he said it could be quite reasonable to make that money from corporations needing experiments performed. Now, this model is for a 10- or so day trip aboard the Space Station. I don’t know how exactly a sub-orbital trip might also be worked out. Personally, if I only had a few minutes in space, I would much rather be concentrating on my immediate experience than worrying about getting a task completed. Maybe the private space company could get the sponsorships and do the research during flight and use those fees to subsidize the tourism.

    Phil, if your book sales are doing well (I heard you wrote a book), see: http://spaceadventures.com/ They’ll send you up to the ISS.

  16. drow

    plus, SUBORBITAL ROCKET RACING!

  17. Danno

    It was exciting to sit and listen to all the buzz about this new, intermediate frontier. But as interesting as the science was, there was something more important going on at this conference. Something that, I suspect very strongly, will change the way we look at space travel.

    And that will be the topic of my next post on this. Stay tuned.

    It’s the space sex tourism industry isn’t it?!

    C’mon! Like, you haven’t thought about it?

  18. Civilian space flight and commercial space flight are both really exiting. However, the biggest obstacles for it aren’t technical, they’re economic and regulatory. For instance, how do we regulate a concept of “airspace” at that altitude. How will these vehicles interact with existing civil aviation? Who will we get to fly them and how will they be trained?

    It’ll be exiting to see this field mature.

  19. Ari

    As Obed says above, can someone provide some examples of things we would do with several minutes of microgravity that are impractical/too expensive to do further up in space?

  20. Cheyenne

    @Ari – It’s virtually ALL impractical. At the end of the day no significant real science has come out of microgravity experiments. People will object to me saying that, so I’ll definitely read any peer reviewed papers that have been published based on the “science” done on the ISS.

    But at least doing it this way we waste a lot less money.

  21. Ferris Valyn

    Cheyenne – there have been fully peer reviewed science that came out of microgravity experiments.

    Now, I will grant that not much, if any has come out of ISS, but thats largely cause we haven’t been funding the science

  22. Travis Bear

    It’s not just periods of microgravity that will be offered. Some startups (Armadillo comes to mind) will offer researchers periods of reduced gravity as well. Want 0.3g? 0.1g? It’s all on the table.

    To provide microgravity they cut out the engines and coast. To provide reduced gravity, they just throttle the engines way down and “mostly coast.”

  23. Crudely Wrott

    Suborbital joyrides are going to be wildly popular for some space of time. At some point the novelty will wear off a bit and with multiple vehicles facing the possibility of launching with empty seats . . .

    . . . well it just makes sense to piggyback. Surely seats not occupied by paying and hyperventilating humans could be used for observation and sampling provided the experiments could be designed to weigh no more and occupy no more space than a person would.

    One thing that comes to mind is real time spectroscopic analysis of atmospheric gases. On the way up and on the way down as well as that bit at the top. Such measurements may be interesting if the ballistic (mostly, c’mon) vehicle could descend through the rocket exhaust plume of its ascent. Nice numbers concerning the impact of combustion byproducts interacting with the layers of the airs are there.

    For a fifth of a million just for the ride? Cheap at twice the price. Might be a good place to throw dollars at.

  24. Cheyenne

    @Ferris – “there have been fully peer reviewed science that came out of microgravity experiments”. Do you have any citations? Any links to peer reviewed articles?

  25. !AstralProjectile

    3 minutes? I’m thinking a pr0n film.

  26. Avery

    Cheap. It costs a whole bunch more to drill an oil well. Something thwe public does not understand. Most wells in Texas are drilled by folks who get together and pool their money for the project. These are real gamblers and not the Las Vegas style weenies . Why can’t we do astronomy the same way? Because we see no quick financial return. Hmmm. How about a relay. We need some form of commercial gain. If we can find such this can be made so cheap and common as to become mundane. Knowledge for it’s own sake is slow to make gains. A tangible reward will bring on such a rush of funds that the rush of new knowledge will outpace our ability to process it. Avoid the temptation to tweak the knowledge for financial gain (AGW lie). It destroys all credibility.

  27. gss_000

    @Cheyenne

    Here is a list of peer reviewed articles so far:

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/science/experiments/Publications.html

    Some of the stuff that is just happening:
    http://blog.al.com/breaking/2010/03/nasa_scientists_open_space_lab.html
    http://biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2010/03/09/jatropha-in-space-iss-experiments-on-seed-growing-in-progress-until-april/

    This doesn’t list NASA’s contribution to Earth observations,

    Not to mention Astrogenetix creating their salmonella vaccine from ISS research and now working on one for deadly staph infections.

    There are other ongoing experiments that I haven’t seen results for, like MIT’s SPHERES and UND’s AgCam. Also right now their is a proposal making the rounds to use the ISS as a tech testbed to work on orbital refueling of satellites.

  28. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ 7. Ferris Valyn Says:

    Plutonium being from Pluto – You asked what has Private space done beyond the SS1 flights

    I did indeed – Thanks for your reply. :-)

    1. There are the 2 flights from the Falcon 1

    Has that actually happened then or just been planned? If it has happened then I’m afraid that I missed it. Not saying it *hasn’t* just that I’m not aware of it. I agree it looks like the Falcon team is doing something but not sure if it has or will take off or how much it will be able to do.

    2. There are the 2 prototype space stations from Bigelow Aerospace

    Get back to me on that when they’re ready to launch them – like when they’re on the launch pad inside a rocket counting down. ;-)

    3. There is the multiple rocketplanes from XCOR (true, they didn’t get out of the atmosphere, but don’t think building a rocketplane is easy)

    I don’t & I hadn’t heard of that happening either. But again, how high can these XCOR rocketplanes go, what can they do & when are they doing it and can we really trust that they *will* do it?

    4. There is the various VTVLs that Armadillo Aerospace has built and flown (Scorpius & Pixel & the like), which allowed them to win 2 government prizes

    5. There is the Goddard test vehicle (a HUGE vehicle) that Blue Origin has built and flown
    6. There is the Xombie & Xoie vehicles that Masten has built, & successfully flown (and used to win 2 government prizes)

    Aside from winning governmment prizes – which is all well & good – what have these actually achieved, what are their capabilities and, if they are so good, why aren’t they up there , flying and doing stuff like launching satellites or taking supplies to the ISS or flying space tourists already?

    And all of this excludes the things done by OldSpace companies (such as the Pegasus rocket that OSC did, or the EELVs)They’ve done quite a bit, even if you leave out traditional space companies. Its time to start taking this seriously

    Where are they now? If they were so good, what happened to them?

    OTOH, lets contrast your examples by looking at how how far NASA – JPL & other national space agencies have gone and all they’ve done :

    - 12 Humans on the Moon & around 20+ orbited it.

    - Space stations built (Skylab, ISS)

    - 500 or so astronauts in space mostly aboard the shuttle (& also the Russian craft)

    - Space probes visiting every planet except Pluto with one on the way to that ice dwarf now.

    - Robot landings on Mars, our Moon, Titan, the asteroid Eros, Venus (Russians), & maybe the asteroid Itokawa (Japan) too.

    - Samples returned or currently on the way to being returned from comets (Stardust), asteroids (Hayabusa -MUSES C - maybe), & the solar wind. (Genesis)

    National space agencies have sent robotic craft outside our solar system & human’s to the Moon.

    When private companies can do, say about a *third* of that, *then* I might take them seriously!

    National public space agencies were sending humans into orbit back in the 1950′s.
    Private space companies can’t even do that much yet with only a couple of sub-orbital flights and those in the 2000′s.

    I don’t want to knock them or suggest they’re *never* going to amount to anything but my hopes for them have been raised and dashed before and I don’t forget that. I think they’re still a long way off being worth much and I emphatically do NOT trust them to be the immediate short-term future of manned space travel.

    They really need to prove themselves capable and successful and meanwhile we need to stick with funding and backing the proven performer – NASA. I trust NASA to get us to the Moon again because it has shown it *can* do the job. I don’t trust private companies to do so because they haven’t.

    As I said, I hope I’m wrong but that’s what I think & why I think so. I don’t believe the private /public space operators is an either/or case but will hopefully one day be a both/ and situation. I wish these private space groups luck – they’re goanna need it! ;-)

  29. Ferris Valyn

    Plutonium being from Pluto

    Has that actually happened then or just been planned? If it has happened then I’m afraid that I missed it. Not saying it *hasn’t* just that I’m not aware of it. I agree it looks like the Falcon team is doing something but not sure if it has or will take off or how much it will be able to do.

    You are confusing Falcon 1 & Falcon 9. There have been 2 Falcon 1 launches, with satellites & everything. The Falcon 9, which hasn’t launched, is the one on the pad right now.

    First Falcon 1 launch – Sept 28, 2008
    Second Falcon 1 launch – July 14, 2009

    Get back to me on that when they’re ready to launch them – like when they’re on the launch pad inside a rocket counting down.

    Genesis 1 – launched in 2006
    Genesis 2 – launched in 2007

    If you have good eyes, and don’t live near major light sources, you can see them orbit (I have not particularly good eyes, and live near a large city, so I haven’t seen them, at least not in the sky)

    I don’t & I hadn’t heard of that happening either. But again, how high can these XCOR rocketplanes go, what can they do & when are they doing it and can we really trust that they *will* do it?
    The first was a test vehicle, to develop the knowledge base for XCOR – this was called the EZ-Rocket. This has been retired at this point.

    The 2nd, called the X-Racer, is for rocketplane racing (for the Rocket racing league). Its primary purpose was to further refine engine technology, and also provide a rocket racing airplane. It can’t get very high or go particularly fast (I know it doesn’t break the sound barrier), but, OTOH, the life cycle & operations cycle of the rockets is damn impressive. I don’t remember the numbers, but it can have multiple cycles per day, and long time cycles at that. In essence, its a real reusable rocket engine, as opposed to the salvageable engine we see on the space shuttle

    The 3rd vehicle, currently being built, is the Lynx. It uses the engine developed for the X-Racer (but with some minor & slight improvements), and can go into space (over 100 km), with a single passenger. Its not orbital though.

    Aside from winning governmment prizes – which is all well & good – what have these actually achieved, what are their capabilities and, if they are so good, why aren’t they up there , flying and doing stuff like launching satellites or taking supplies to the ISS or flying space tourists already?

    Most of them have been developmental vehicles, however some are approaching operational vehicles. For Armadillo Aerospace, I know that they’ve passed 1200 meters, although I can’t speak to what the ultimate altitude of that particular vehicle. For Masten’s Xoie, it should be able to reach 100,000, or get up to 30 seconds of weightlessness. BTW, NASA hasn’t produced a vehicle that can take-off & land vertically, under rocket power. There next vehicle or 2 should be space capable. Figure they are on step 7-8, and step 10 gets a fully space capable vehicle (although they are not orbital capable).

    Before I go on, I want to make a very important point – even if you just limit it to these NewSpace companies, and don’t consider the next point I am going to get into, the underlying point is, they are beginning to get awfully close to putting products in space (or even have in the case of a few), and all have test vehicles (substantial test vehicles) currently flying. You basically suggested that the only thing that has happened is the SS1 flights (which there were 3 of, not 2). And that is not the case, not by a long shot. Yes, a lot of it is still in the testing phase, but its in the very advance testing phase.
    ——————————————-
    Now, referring to Oldspace companies
    Where are they now? If they were so good, what happened to them?

    Well, Lockheed Martin & Boeing are quite successful, and have built the ISS, the Space Shuttle, the Saturn V, the Apollo capsules, and the LEM. Right now, they’ve created a joint merger company, called ULA, which provides launches for various NASA probes, such as the New Horizons (and many other probes launched for NASA do so on a commercial rocket. In fact, the Shuttle’s themselves are maintained by a company called USA.

    Orbital science Corporation, another company, has flown multiple satellites & rockets for NASA into space. The Pegasus remains in operation today, carrying smaller satellites into space. They’ve also got a slightly larger rocket, called the Taurus & Minotaur, and are working on a much larger rocket, called the Taurus II.

    NASA has never functioned without its contractor base, and so when you say “Private space needs to accomplish a 3rd of what NASA has accomplished”, what you fail to realize is that private space HAS accomplished everything that NASA has accomplished. I will grant, they probably wouldn’t have done it without NASA. OTOH, don’t act like NASA could’ve accomplished those feats without its contractor base.

    The point is, when we are talking about commercial spaceflight, there are companies that are pursuing it directly, only using very limited NASA money, and those that have done it using ONLY NASA money. The first is fairly new (although, not as new as you might think, its just this is the first time they’ve gotten this successful), and the 2nd has been around for awhile.

    The fundamental question in all of these discussions isn’t whether commercial space can succeed, because we see it succeeding all the time. The real question is can commercial space succeed with markets that aren’t solely dependent upon NASA. We’ve done that for things like Comm sats, but not for humans or something that requires regular too and back access to space. But if we can get that to happen, and get NASA to help that happen, we get to do a lot more.

  30. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ 30. Ferris Valyn:

    Thanks for that. :-)

    I’ve learned a bit from you on this issue here &, okay, I have to admit that things are more advanced than I’d previously thought esp. when it comes to the Bigelow Genesis stations.

    I’ve even done some extra research there & can direct y’all to :

    http://www.bigelowaerospace.com/genesis_II/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis_I

    &

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceX

    However, they haven’t launched people yet & I’m still not convinced they are necessarily the way to go for the immediate future.

    I’d like to see them accomplish much more first before I’d be willing to rely on them as any sort of substitute for NASA when it comes to space exploration and development.

    I’d include your “oldspace companies” as part of NASA – contracting for the National agency & working under NASA direction for NASA’s ends – & would not count them as “private space” as I’d define the term.

  31. Ferris Valyn

    I’d include your “oldspace companies” as part of NASA – contracting for the National agency & working under NASA direction for NASA’s ends – & would not count them as “private space” as I’d define the term.

    But see, your wrong in your assumption there. They are private space companies, because they aren’t owned & operated by NASA. In fact, the rockets that ULA (IE Boeing & Lockheed Martin) fly are commercially available (the Atlas V & Delta IV).

    Moreover, everyone involved in getting private space to help move us forward, consider them vital to the larger project. And there is a lot of evidence that NASA sees it this way as well – that its not NASA & its traditional contractors vs NewSpace, but rather, merging NewSpace & the NASA contractors, to better serve NASA. And, at the same time, make it so that it can serve other, non-NASA human customers (and yes, this applies to both the “Newspace companies”, and the NASA contractors)

    Let me show you exactly how this works – Back when NASA first announced this, there was a lot of talk about the Merchant 7 companies. Basically, these were companies that had won NASA contracts that were aimed at enabling private spaceflight. These companies were:
    SpaceX (NewSpace company)
    Orbital Science corporation (sort of in-between, but more Traditional NASA company)
    Sierra Nevada Corp (Sort of in between, but more NewSpace)
    Boeing (Traditional NASA company)
    Blue Origin (NewSpace company)
    ULA (Traditional NASA company)
    Paragon (NewSpace company)

    The point I am getting at is that we aren’t talking about turning it over to companies who haven’t done anything before with human spaceflight (or at least, we aren’t going to only involve them). We did this quite explicitly with Cargo resupply for the station – you have SpaceX, the new company, and Orbital Science, which is a traditional NASA contractor. The key thing is that NASA is treating the companies (and will do so when commercial crew comes on) as commercial operators, rather than contractors. And yes, this applies to those who have traditionally been NASA contractors (IE Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital Science Corporation).

    Its time you reconsider your terminology.

    Let me put this quite clearly – if there was a guarantee (I mean guarantee) that among the commercial contracts handed out for delivering crew to ISS was at least 1 or 2 options that were entirely traditional NASA contractors (using this new contracting mechanism) would you still oppose it?

  32. Brian Too

    The Pegasus comes up a couple of times in this thread. I’d very nearly forgotten about this vehicle. How come it has such a low profile? We hardly ever hear about it (or so it seems to me).

    There was a time when it caused a lot of excitement as a means of lowering launch costs and thereby allowing much wider access to space. I seem to remember a test failure or two, but later I understood they had ironed the bugs out. Was this mistaken?

  33. Ferris Valyn

    No, it still gets used – it has a total of 353 successful launches, since its first launch in 1990. And it did lower costs for smaller satellites, a little bit. However, the market for large scale use of the Pegasus never materialized.

    Its next scheduled flight is 2011

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