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NASA Space Transportation Science

NASA Taps 7 Commercial Firms For Suborbital Flights 27

coondoggie writes "NASA this week picked seven commercial space companies to fly a manner of experiments on their suborbital aircraft. According to NASA the companies will split $10 million and get a two-year contract that will let NASA set up a pool of reusable suborbital systems that could help it test applications in everything from astrobiology to measuring the impact of a solar storm."
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NASA Taps 7 Commercial Firms For Suborbital Flights

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  • what a joke.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    10 millions dollars isn't enough to do the paperwork that is involved with working with NASA let alone doing anything useful. Especially since its is split between 7 contractors - clearly a move designed to make it look like the US Space program isn't dead.....

    • Agreed. And sub-orbital? Great. We're back to Mercury/Redstone. Go us.

      • Re:what a joke.... (Score:4, Informative)

        by Gravatron ( 716477 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @05:19PM (#37049326)
        You don't always need to get to orbit to do research. For example, take a look at sounding rockets and the science they do.
        • Re:what a joke.... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by derGoldstein ( 1494129 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @05:27PM (#37049406) Homepage
          NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
          Aeronautics: Noun: The science or practice of travel through the air.

          Aeronautics are a key part of the research. I don't see how this is a "step back" -- it's necessary, and right now it fits the budget.
        • I never said sub orbital is pointless.

          But we've been doing sub orbital since 1961. To go back to the level of capability we had then is pretty pathetic. Especially since we have (yes we, because we paid for and hauled most of it) a space station up there and can't get to it without crawling to other countries for a cab ride. I find that to be pretty stupid. If you haven't noticed, relations between the US and Russia are. . Strained. It doesn't take a giant leap of the imagination to conclude that some day M

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by downix ( 84795 )

        NASA does plenty of suborbital work for research purposes. You can read about it here:

        http://rscience.gsfc.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]

    • Re:what a joke.... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by derGoldstein ( 1494129 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:57PM (#37049048) Homepage
      10 million isn't enough to do the paperwork *within* NASA. We're talking about separate small companies, who will have a drastically different approach. This is a good idea -- push (support) the commercial efforts for a relatively low cost and see which innovations they can use themselves down the line.

      Huge budgets lead to bloat and bureaucracy. Small companies will be forced to look at every dollar spent, and be result-oriented.
    • by downix ( 84795 )

      NASA does many such contracts on a regular basis. This is for suborbital research, commonly done on vehicles such as the Black Brant and Terrior, a class of vehicles called Sounding Rockets. Several small companies have stepped forward with new suborbital programs which cost far less than these older systems, such as Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo, Blue Origin's New Shepherd and the XCOR Lynx, and the old contracts expire next year, so this is the right time to gather replacements.

      The last contract setup

    • My lab had a research grant from NASA this summer with almost zero paperwork involved. Of course, whether or not we did anything useful is still up in the air.
  • by derGoldstein ( 1494129 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:52PM (#37048986) Homepage
    Kind of like the Darpa "Cyber-Fast Track initiative" [slashdot.org]. It's a type of "outsourcing" to that takes advantage of ideas outside the organization. Independent companies will have a much greater incentive to reduce costs.
    • More importantly, as you pointed out before, smaller companies have the ability to reduce costs, particularly administrative costs. The thing that makes bigger companies inefficient is the administrative bloat. People like to deride NASA about cost bloats (with some reason), but private is not necessarily leaner. If one has ever worked for a large company like HP, Dell or IBM (I only have experience with computer companies, but I think this apply to other giants), the admin bloat is just as bad.
  • Why not just farm it out to ESA or Russia? Arianne has a damned impressive success rate and Russia is waging a price war with China. Either way, your payload goes up at rock-bottom prices.


    NASA is a palindrome: an agency formed that first couldn't get off the ground, then got up in the air, then into low orbit, then high orbit, then to the Moon, then to low orbit, and now can't even get off the ground. I used to be so proud of them...

    • You can probably plot that graph to the budget they're getting. There's not more USSR to have a pissing contest with. It used to be that NASA was part-exploration, part-military (during the space race, I mean). Now that it's "just" exploration and science, it no longer "justifies" the expense. Good thing the Europeans support projects like the LHC -- I don't think that with the current turbulence in the US economy we can expect too much money to flow into "science projects", of any kind.
      • Good thing the Europeans support projects like the LHC

        Yeah ... its a good thing Europe's economy is completely unaffected by any sort of economic trouble (downgrading of France's credit rating, rioting in England, Greece/Ireland/Portugal defaulting on loans).

        I hope you're right, but we'll have to see what happens with the LHC, since the UK, France, Greece and Portugal are all CERN member states.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CERN#Member_states [wikipedia.org]

        That's leaving aside something further happening, like this for instance: http://www.cnbc.com/id/43794479/Let_Greece_Irel [cnbc.com]

    • by downix ( 84795 )

      Ariane is not a suborbital vehicle, so not quite understanding why it would be relevant.

      • by vlm ( 69642 )

        Ariane is not a suborbital vehicle, so not quite understanding why it would be relevant.

        Oh they've certainly made plenty of suborbital Ariane launches, plenty. Not intentionally, of course, but...

        Seriously though, anything orbital inherently has an absolutely whopping suborbital capability.

        • by Teancum ( 67324 )

          Seriously though, anything orbital inherently has an absolutely whopping suborbital capability.

          Not quite. Sure, you can buy a Delta IV for a half billion dollars to perform a sub-orbital mission.... but why spend so much money?

          The point of hiring these particular companies is that they can send experiments above the Kármán line [wikipedia.org] at a price that is reasonable and affordable. If you have an experiment that depends upon a microgravity environment in order to work, at the moment there are very limited options available to test the design. There are drop towers (literally, where you get a box

  • NASA Double-Taps 7 Commercial Firms For Suborbital Flights

    Nobody, but nobody, flies sub-orbital around here except us. Capiche?

"We shall reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement." -- Richard J. Daley