News / Science & Technology

    US Space Program Goes Commercial

    Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp, speaks during a news conference in Washington, DC. to announce SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket should be ready for use by the end of 2012, April 5, 2011
    Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp, speaks during a news conference in Washington, DC. to announce SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket should be ready for use by the end of 2012, April 5, 2011

    This Friday, the U.S. space shuttle Endeavor is scheduled to lift off on its last voyage to the orbiting International Space Station.  And on June 28, barring any last minute complications, Alantis  will become the last space shuttle ever to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center.  Both missions mark the end of NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program. But it is not the end of America’s space ventures.

    Fifty years after a Redstone rocket carried the first American astronaut, Alan Shephard, into space, NASA is getting out of the business of sending astronauts on missions using its own spacecraft.  Instead, the U.S. space agency will rely on privately designed and owned rockets to ferry cargo and crew to the orbiting International Space Station.

    The commercially built space vehicles are expected to be every bit as powerful and reliable as those operated by NASA, but they’ll cost American taxpayers far less. One company, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, has signed a  $1.6 billion deal with NASA for 12 unmanned delivery flights to the space station.

    SpaceX says the deal should lower the cost of launching cargo to about $1,000 per half kilogram - less than one-tenth of what it costs NASA to get a payload into outer space on the shuttle.

    President Barack Obama is asking Congress to approve $850 million to aid the development of private rockets to service the orbiting scientific outpost. NASA administrator Charles Bolden says the budget will support a public-private partnership in space.

    "We must have safe, reliable and affordable access to it for our astronauts and their supporting equipment.  That’s why this budget boosts funding for our partnership with the commercial space industry," Bolden said.

    The private sector’s role in unmanned space operations - such as the manufacture of satellites and robotic spacecraft -- is nothing new. So says former NASA executive Alan Stern, now with the Southwest Research Institute, which offers technical assistance to the aerospace industry.

    Stern says the private sector is promising to conduct space missions for a fraction of what they have traditionally cost NASA.  For example, SpaceX says it can reduce the cost of a launch, depending upon the rocket, to between $50 million and $100 million compared to the $1.5 billion price tag for each space shuttle mission.

    Stern says this savings of dimes on the dollar benefits the private sector as well as the public.

    "That’s a huge reduction in cost that’s going to allow us to have multiple space lines, and to be able to afford that. and to be able to do more things in space than we could in the past," Stern said.

    Last year, SpaceX became the first commercial aerospace company to successfully launch, place into orbit and retrieve a spacecraft -- the Falcon 9, carrying an unmanned capsule called the Dragon.

    The Dragon is being built as part of NASA’s $1.6 billion deal with SpaceX.  Company founder and CEO Elon Musk says the space agency has been pressing it to complete testing of the capsule, so it can go to the space station on a resupply mission at the end of this year.  However, news reports have quoted a top official in Russia’s manned space program as saying Russia will not allow the SpaceX rocket to dock with the space station until more extensive safety testing has been completed.

    Safety is a big concern for the private rocket builders, too. Alan Stern says the companies are not cutting corners to keep costs down or to meet tight deadlines. He says they have a lot to lose if there are accidents.

    "If the rockets fail or the capsules have problems, that’s going to affect their future business pretty strongly; in fact it could put them out of business.  And that’s a very strong motivation for any private concern," Stern said.

    But there have been problems.  Orbital Sciences Corporation, which has a contract with NASA to deliver supplies to the space station, tried but failed in March to launch a climate satellite aboard its Taurus (XL)  rocket.  The $424 million payload was lost when the clamshell-like structure designed to protect the satellite enroute to orbit failed to open.

    It was an exact replay of the company’s 2009 mishap, when a nosecone failure doomed a $270 million carbon-observing satellite. Both Orbital Sciences and NASA are investigating the twin accidents.

    In the meantime, the company is continuing work on its Taurus II, an expendable medium class rocket that’s designed to deliver cargo to the International Space Station from a launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Island Facility in Virginia.

    Recently, SpaceX announced plans for a demonstration flight of its new heavy lift vehicle, called the Falcon Heavy,  at the end of 2012 from NASA’s Cape Canaveral, Florida facility.
    Company CEO Elon Musk says the Falcon Heavy will be one of the biggest rockets ever built.

    "175,000 pounds (53 metric tons) is more than a fully loaded Boeing 737 with 136 passengers, luggage and fuel in orbit.  So that is really humongous," Musk said.
    Founder Elon Musk believes the rocket will be powerful enough to carry the Dragon capsule to the moon and possibly even Mars.

    NASA has just awarded four contracts totaling $270 million to four companies to develop manned space flight capabilities.  In the past, private aerospace companies built spacecraft and other hardware to NASA’s design specifications, with the space agency at the forefront of every decision.

    Now, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, Ed Mango, says space vehicles will be designed and owned entirely by the commercial sector, with safety input from the space agency.

    "In the end, we will pay that company a certain price to purchase a seat, if you want to look at it this way, purchase a ticket, in order to fly to get our crew from the surface of the Earth to the space station," Mango said.

    Mango says those ‘tickets’ won’t be available until the middle of the decade. Until then, NASA will pay Russia $750 million for a dozen round trip seats aboard the Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.