Because They Are Hard
"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too." --John F. Kennedy September 12, 1962
(With the head of the local Atlas Society in front of Rocketplane Kistler's booth at NewSpace)
Boeing has been selected to build the upper stage of Aries I. Outgoing Exploration Systems chief Scott Horowitz once worked for competitor ATK Thiokol, so there was no playing favourites. (He loves the spacesuit, wore similiar suits as an F-15 pilot.) With their expertise in solid rockets, ATK is still responsible for the first stage while Lockheed-Martin builds the Orion spacecraft.
At the NewSpace conference in Washington last month, Rocketplane Kistler's representative seemed quite pre-occupied. With Elon Musk's SpaceX, RPK is the chief competitor chosen for NASA's COTS programme. To get this contract the companies must meet technical and financial benchmarks. Now we know that RPK has failed to raise the 500 million US needed to continue. Unfortunately no one in DC had half a billion lying around.
In the meantime, SpaceX has made steady progress. The first flight of their Falcon 1 in March 006 ended in failure after 30 seconds. The second flight March 21 did not achieve orbit but met 90% of its design objectives, enough to be called a success. If Musk is successful, he could have a monopoly on ISS resupply. The bigger Falcon 9 will be rolled out soon, and Musk hopes to have the Dragon crew capsule ready by 2009. This would help fill the gap between Shuttle and Orion.
Jim Benson is responsible for Spaceship One's engines, so it must have been very disappointing not being a finalist for COTS. His SpaceDev company is quietly working on their DreamChaser suborbital spacecraft. Unlike Spaceship Two, it will not need a carrier aircraft, which shortens the development time. Benson's company may be the first to need spacesuits. SpaceDev has just been awarded a contract to develop a lander for the International Lunar Observatory.
Virgin Galactic is still recovering from the tragic explosion at Scaled Composites July 26. Presently they are not sure what fuel the engines will use, which affects the entire design. Perhaps they can get help from Benson. Virgin claims they will begin testing by the end of '008. An 18-month test period means no paid passengers until at least 2010. That's a long time to wait for those who have bought tickets.
There is new competition from EADS Astrium project. Given EADS willingness to sink money into huge projects like the A-380, this spacecraft has a good chance of being funded. John Carmack's Armadillo suffered their own accident August 18, seriously damaging their Texel lander. Previously Armadillo was thought to be a shoo-in for the Lunar Lander Challenge, which they nearly won last year. So far their vehicles have not travelled more than a few hundred feet.
We are witnessing the excitement of a new industry being born. Private companies are learning that spaceflight is challenging, expensive and often risky. Many more companies have proposals that will never be more than vapourware. This is a very exciting time to be in the industry.