Where No Business Has Gone Before
, With Help From NASA
Companies are hoping to launch several new spacecraft with money from the government.February 1,
Businesses Take Flight, With Help From NASA
New York Times, Science Section, 2/1/11
$20M for the development of the Dream
Chaser, illustrated here docking at the
International Space Station.
Orbital Sciences says the
development of Prometheus, background, would
cost $3.5B to $4B.
BOULDER, Colo. — Sitting in a testing facility at the
University of Colorado
, the inner shell of the
Dream Chaser space plane looks like the fuselage of an old DC-3.
The test structure has been pushed and pulled to see how it holds up to the stresses and strains of
spaceflight. With an additional infusion of money from
, the company that makes the Dream
Chaser, Sierra Nevada Space Systems, hopes to complete the rest of the structure and eventually take
astronauts to orbit.
“Our view is if we could stop buying from the Russians, if we could make life cheaper for NASA, and if
we could build a few vehicles that do other things in low-Earth orbit that are valuable, isn’t that, at the
end of the day, a good thing?” said Mark N. Sirangelo, the company’s chairman.
The Dream Chaser is one of several new spacecraft that companies are hoping to launch into space with
help from the government. Last year, the Obama administration pushed through an ambitious
transformation for NASA: canceling the Ares I rocket, which was to be the successor to the current
generation of space shuttles, and turning to the commercial sector for astronaut transportation.
So far, most of the attention in this new commercial space race has focused on Boeing, which has five
decades of experience building spacecraft, and Space Exploration Technologies Corporation — SpaceX,
for short — a brash upstart that gained credibility last year with two launchings of its Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX, led by
, a founder of PayPal and chief executive of
, already has a NASA
contract for delivering cargo to the space station, and says that it can easily add up to seven seats to its
Dragon cargo capsule to make it suitable for passengers. Boeing is also designing a capsule, capable of
carrying seven passengers, under the corporate-sounding designation of
But Boeing and SpaceX are not the only competitors seeking to provide space taxi services, a program