martes, 12 de mayo de 2015

NASA wants to boost small-rocket industry

It follows an article published today on the Orlando Sentinel web portal, highlighting that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) encourages private rocket companies to develop small rockets to launch an emerging market of tiny satellites.

NASA SEEKS BIDS FOR SMALL ROCKETS TO LAUNCH TINY SATELLITES

NASA outlined a deal Monday to encourage private rocket companies to develop small rockets to launch an emerging market of tiny satellites.

NASA is seeking proposals this summer from upstart rocket companies interested in sending two small satellites into low Earth orbit by 2018.

Both satellites will be small — about 130 pounds each — so NASA wants companies to propose rockets so efficient they could develop into profitable vehicles for other small space payloads.

Based on what's now under development by the commercial industry, the rockets could be as small as 30 feet tall, said Mark Wiese, chief of NASA's Flight Projects Branch in the Launch Services Program's business office at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA is calling them "Venture Class" launch services.

They are needed, NASA officials said, because electronic-miniaturization technology is producing nanosatellites that are becoming powerful and sophisticated enough to gather Earth and deep-space data while in orbit and to communicate with Earth.

Some can go deep into space and work. Some called "CubeSats" are smaller than a six-pack of beer.

There is a backlog to get nanosatellites into space and more-powerful ones are being developed, said Garrett Skrobot, mission manager for NASA's nanosatellites launch-services program at Kennedy. But traditional rides into space on big rockets, even ride-alongs with bigger hardware, cost far more than most nanosatellites are worth.

So smaller rockets are needed, and the small-rocket industry needs a boost from NASA to become viable and eventually independent. NASA wants to hire the first small rockets, Wiese said.

"This is us trying to help open that door," Wiese said.

NASA is not saying how much it is budgeting or willing to pay to launch these two satellites, but will wait to see what prices are pitched. Wiese said NASA likely would pay more for these launches than the cost of ride-along services for nanosatellites.

But once started, the small-rocket industry should find ways to bring down costs to become commercially viable, both he and Skrobot said.

Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, welcomed the NASA effort but said it will take a lot more than a couple of NASA launches to support a small-rocket-industry startup. Yet Stallmer said the time frame should give companies enough time to get rockets ready for a well-paying customer such as NASA.

"Three years down the road? I think they'd have plenty of takers out there to submit proposals," he said.

Several companies already are developing small space vehicles to handle nanosatellites. Firefly and Rocket Lab are among those planning traditional but small vertical-launch rockets, while Orbital Sciences, Virgin Galactic, Statolaunch Systems and Generation Orbit are among those that have or are working on rockets that could be dropped from airplanes.

Under NASA's request for proposals, there is no reason the rockets have to launch from Kennedy or Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. But there also is no reason they couldn't be launched there.

Separately, NASA is seeking commercial proposals to create two new launch complexes at Kennedy, and either could be used for small rockets. In addition, NASA is overhauling one of the former space-shuttle pads, Launch Complex 39B, to handle huge rockets, yet it is also reserving a spot for small ones.

And Space Florida, the state agency set up to encourage commercial space business, leases an old launch site at the Air Force base, Launch Complex 46, that could be used for small rockets.

Comment: As you can see in this note, the main space agency in the world is working to develop the small sats technology, showing the worth these small spacecraft’s have and the important role they -along with the small launchers- will play in the near future.

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