The International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, New Mexico, wrapped up yesterday with another series of panels after an opening keynote by NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver. In her speech, Garver talked about the importance of the recent passage of the NASA authorization bill, which, while not everything the administration wanted, did open the door to further commercial participation in the agency’s efforts, primarily with commercial crew. She also cited other recent efforts, such as NASA contracts issued last week to several Google Lunar X PRIZE teams for data from those missions, if and when they fly. “This really has to be a true partnership” between the agency and commercial entities, she said.
Some other notes of interest from the conference sessions:
- In a session on the microgravity research market, Andrew Nelson of XCOR said that he believes that, by 2016, there will be an annual market for suborbital flight services of $3.3 billion. Only $800 million of that will be flying people (primarily for tourism), with $1.1 billion for flying payloads and $1.4 billion for launching smallsats.
- In a panel on orbital crew capsules, Robert Bigelow said Bigelow Aerospace had been in discussions with Lockheed Martin back in 2004-2005 on crew transportation systems, and even awarded the company a million-dollar contract to design an “Orion Lite” version that would be a scaled-down version of the Orion spacecraft for NASA. However, asked later what he thought of the potential competition between Orion and commercially-developed systems for ISS crew transportation, Bigelow said bluntly that “I think Orion is unnecessary”: commercial systems could handle access to LEO while spacecraft larger than Orion should be developed for deep-space exploration.
- On that same panel Lockheed’s Kenneth Reightler defended the development of Orion, but also indicated that the company had attracted “quite a bit of interest” from other customers, and that Lockheed had “invested a lot of out corporate money” into the program.
- In a panel late in the day on spaceports, Rick Homans of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority said that the development of Spaceport America is now in a “very complex” phase, as it transitions from construction to operations over the next year. The authority will soon issue a series of RFPs for operational-related activities, from security to visitor services, and is actively seeking a deputy director who will be responsible for spaceport operations.
- Stu Witt of Mojave Air and Space Port, on the same panel, advised Homans and others running spaceports to be ready to deal with both “normal and abnormal” operations, citing from his own experience in Mojave events ranging from plane crashes to the SpaceShipTwo engine development accident in 2007 that killed three people to even the windstorm that prematurely ended the SS2 rollout event last December and toppled tents—after everyone had been evacuated, fortunately. “You’ve got to be planning and planning and planning,” Witt advised.
On Friday the big event, of course, is the dedication of the runway at Spaceport America, which will feature appearances by Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson as well as a flyover by WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo.