Wanted: Space Taxi Service
While the International Space Station is still used by both Russia and the US as a center from research beyond our planet’s atmosphere, the way in which individuals travel to the station has changed significantly. Since the last Space Shuttle launch of Atlantis earlier this year in July, the United States has depended on the Russian space program to continue to bring supplies and individuals to and from the station. After a recent unmanned Russian supply spacecraft experienced engine trouble and crashed back to earth, NASA has put up an ad looking for a commercial solution to space transport. For those interested in starting a space program, NASA is willing to pay a cool $1.6 billion. A disclaimer on the offer is the NASA wants an entire transport package from mission control to launch operations to the spacecraft itself. In a sense NASA is simply looking for a taxi service to allow it to easily transport people and supplies to and from the space station.
I believe the new offer from NASA shows a significant change in the future of the space industry. While US government run space operations have failed, commercial industries may be able to build a successful business exploring the final frontier. Indeed one such commercial operation already in existence is The Spaceship Company, a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites. The Spaceship Company recently opened a facility for the sole purpose of spaceship manufacturing, although many of these spaceships are intended to assist with Virgin Galactic’s mission to create a successful business model out of civilian astronauts. A mere two hundred thousand dollar will provide customers the opportunity for a flight into space. While The Spaceship Company focuses more on consumers, with the recent NASA proposal a space transport service it may be a great opportunity for the young company.
NASA currently depends on the Russian Soyuz and unmanned Progress spacecraft to bring essential supplies such as food and oxygen to the space station. On August 24, the unmanned Russian cargo spacecraft crash uncovered a startling reality to the NASA and the US. Currently, NASA is paying a major fee to essentially buy a seat on a Russian spacecraft for its astronauts. Also, Russia is NASA’s only line to bring supplies and astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The recent engine failure of the Russian spacecraft has moved NASA to put up the $1.6 billion dollar investment into the private space industry.
It is interesting to see how smaller private companies are able to enter fields once only dominated by huge government entities. The emergence of new technologies has enabled companies like The Spaceship Company to reasonably promote the idea of civilian space flight. In a recent press release from Virgin Galactic, they explained their plans to continue to improve the safety while reducing the costs. A vision of the president of Virgin Galactic is to enable affordable space travel to the masses. Such an idea could be a rather interesting future family vacation.
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