Sunday, September 20, 2009
With private space industry finally beginning to find its legs and NASA due to retire the Space Shuttle soon, it's inevitable that NASA will turn to private industry more and more in order to find cheaper and better ways to gain access to space, a subject that this article today from Reuters deals with. The most obvious example of this in the near future will be SpaceX's Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 heavy rocket. NASA seems to work best when it is able to pay others to take care of services that have now become fairly routine, and can use the remainder to work on expanding into new frontiers where as yet there is no profit motive whatsoever to attract private companies.
Mike Griffin is quoted in the article as saying that it's still risky to rely on private contractors for such services, but I seem to remember a certain Shuttle being torn apart on reentry in 2002 that didn't say much for their safety record either.
In other private aerospace news, Armadillo Aerospace qualified a few days ago for a $1 million prize from NASA that involved ascending to 50 metres, travelling horizontally to another pad 50 metres away, fly to a replica of the lunar surface after at least three minutes in the air, and then return to the launch site it began from. The parameters seem rather pointless until you read the reason for them: being able to do that in Earth's gravity means that the craft would be capable of breaking lunar orbit, so this is really a demonstration of a craft's capability as a lunar lander and return vehicle. When you think about it that way it's really quite exciting. Here's the video of their successful attempt on the 13th (or was it the 12th?).