WASHINGTON – The successful conclusion of the first commercial supply mission to the International Space Station this week also prompted a wave of announcements from a growing list of commercial space companies vying for NASA contracts and space tourist customers.
Most notably, the normally secretive Blue Origin startup launched by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos disclosed on Thursday (May 31), the same say a SpaceX spacecraft returned from a supply mission to the space station, that it had completed a NASA review of its proposed orbital spacecraft. Blue Origin (Kent, Wash.) and others are competing with SpaceX for a NASA commercial crew contract.
Rob Meyerson, Blue Origin’s president, said in a statement that the review means the company can moved ahead to complete is rocket and spacecraft designs. The company is proposing a reusable rocket and a “biconic” spacecraft that would be upright at launch but oriented horizontally for reentry. The horizontal orientation would give the spacecraft the same “lifting body” properties used for reentry by the winged space shuttle.
Blue Origin's rocket during an aborted flight test last year just before ground controllers destroyed it at about 45,000 feet after the vehicle encountered "flight instability."
Another competitor for the NASA contract, Sierra Nevada Corp. (Louisville, Colo.) said this week it had completed “captive carry” test of its Dream Chaser vehicle. A full scale version of the spacecraft was carried aloft to gauge flight characteristics as part of a NASA test program. The company said it expects to being autonomous approach and landing tests later this summer at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Steve Lindsey, a former astronaut and chief of NASA’s astronaut office, heads Sierra Nevada flight test program.
XCOR Aerospace (Mojave, Calif.), which is developing a rocket-power aircraft that would take tourists to the edge of space, said last week that its proprietary liquid oxygen piston pump is ready to be used in the main engine of XCOR’s Lynx suborbital spacecraft. XCOR said completion of fuel pump testing is the last step before integrating the main propulsion system with the Lynx vehicle. The company said last fall that flight testing could begin as early as this fall.
XCOR was founded in 1999 by former Intel executive Jeff Greason.
This week’s series of commercial space announcements came after SpaceX successfully sent its Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station. The spacecraft carrying a return cargo splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday. The successful first test flight to the space station gives SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, a big head start in the competition to fly cargo and crews to the station as part of NASA commercial crew program.
Another competitor, Orbital Sciences (Dulles, Va.) is scheduled to test its Antares rocket later this year from a new launch complex at Wallops Island, Va. A test flight with a cargo ship that will attempt to dock with the space station could come as early as 2013, the company said.