SpaceX launch: private industry inspires new generation of rocketeers (+video)
SpaceX launch a reminder that NASA isn't the only game in town anymore. Aspiring engineers, rocket designers, space geeks look to 'New Space' companies to boldly go where only governments used to go.
(Page 2 of 3)
Even before its Dragon capsule launched on a Falcon 9 rocket to the space station, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) announced a joint marketing deal with Bigelow Aerospace in which SpaceX would launch people and payloads to Bigelow's inflatable habitats on orbit, a type of space module originally developed at NASA. Bigelow has two small-scale prototypes circling Earth now. The market the two companies see is international – providing access to space for countries outside the usual cast of spacefaring nations.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Meanwhile, in December, entrepreneur Paul Allen announced the formation of a new company, Stratolaunch Systems. It teams Allen with SpaceX, Scaled Composites, founded by aircraft designer Burt Rutan, and another company, Dynetics, to build an air-launched rocket system. A multistage rocket would be released at high altitude from an enormous jet with six engines used on Boeing 747s. The rocket would carry cargo and people to orbit.
These big ideas highlight a point that emerges from conversations with educators and one-time students now hard at work designing and building hardware. Although the Apollo program that carried men to the moon in the late 1960s and 1970s continues to serve as a kind of eternal torch of inspiration for some, the generation at hand appears to draw much of its inspiration from the space program at hand.
Pick a point in time, and they find something that inspires them.
For his part, Dr. Braun was four years old when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar excursion module and into history as the first human to set foot on the moon. Braun says he has no recollection of the event, although his parents told him he sat in front of the TV watching it with them at the time. His passion for space blossomed with the Viking missions to Mars in the mid-1970s, he says.
For Zachary Krevor, it was a high-school visit to NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. “I had a really great experience there,” he recalls. Much of what he saw involved work the center had done to support the space shuttle program. That kindled an interest in spacecraft design that shaped his college career.
In 2007, Dr. Krevor took his newly minted PhD to Lockheed Martin, where he worked on the Orion program – the multi-purpose crew capsule NASA envisioned as part of President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration. “The prospect of being close to the hardware really excited me about that opportunity,” he recalls.
Three years later, he moved to Sierra Nevada Corporation, a privately held aerospace firm developing its “Dream Chaser” craft, one of the four development projects NASA is funding under its commercial-crew development program. The craft looks like a mini space shuttle, minus the aircraft-like tail.