Monday, December 15, 2008

Armadillo on Planetary Society Radio; Planetary Society and Commercial Space

The Planetary Society got a lot of criticism from advocates of commercial space (among others) during the release of its Roadmap for human space exploration. There's no doubt that their main focus is on scientific exploration, but it seems to me that they've gradually been paying more attention to, and becoming more active with, commercial and other private space efforts over the years. There are many examples of this trend, some of which I've posted about here. Here's another, where they introduce a commercial space entrepreneur to the space science community:

Armadillos in Space - Planetary Radio for the Week of December 15, 2008 - Armadillo Aerospace just won the biggest NASA Centennial Challenge yet, but Vice President and co-founder Neil Milburn tells us the tiny rocket company has other ambitious goals.

On a non-prize note, while I'm on the subject, here are some old items related to the Roadmap and commercial space. The current Roadmap doesn't spell out these points; hopefully they are still in there and the Society will bring them, or measures like them, to the forefront as a compliment and aid to their main science goals as expressed in the Roadmap.

Congressional Testimony of Shuttle Astronaut Kathryn Thornton - Planetary Society:

One of the roles of entrepreneurial space ventures should be to help NASA get out of the business of routine transportation to LEO for cargo and crews as soon as practical. ...

As long as NASA is the owner, operator and sole customer of transportation services to LEO in this country, there is no competition for services and limited access to space. However, the emerging entrepreneurial space industry projects growing demand for access to space by foreign governments who want to get into the space business, from multinational corporations and from tourists. NASA is investing in commercial space transportation services through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services project (COTS) for cargo to the ISS, and eventually crew transport as well. Bigelow Aerospace and Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services are engaged in discussions on the Atlas 5 as the launch vehicle to provide crew and cargo transportation services to a Bigelow-built space complex in the near term.

As NASA refocuses on exploration, commercial ventures that will replace NASA as the sole US human space transportation system should be encouraged and incentivized by NASA and by Congress. Assurances that NASA would become a customer, not a competitor, in LEO would strengthen the business case for companies who are investing in this venture.

Space Leaders Work To Replace Lunar Base With Manned Asteroid Missions - Aviation Week:

The alternative vision would also include far greater private-sector incentives for participation at all levels, an area public surveys cite as very important. Missions to asteroids and Lagrangian points, for example, are likely to carry along Bigelow-type commercial inflatable modules. A recent informal space program survey by The New York Times found substantial public frustration about NASA's doing what entrepreneurs could do better.