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March 01, 2011

Unintended (but great) consequences [Fritzworth]

OK, I'm embarrassed. I grew up a child of the Space Age, hoping to be an astronaut or, at least, just get into space. I actually worked at NASA/JSC on the Space Shuttle flight simulators and subsequently next door at the Lunar & Planetary Institute. I have followed all things space for 50 years.

And, yet, this implication of the nascent space tourism industry never occurred to me until I read this article:


Science, perhaps even more than tourism, could turn out to be big business for Virgin and other companies that are aiming to provide short rides above the 62-mile altitude that marks the official entry into outer space, eventually on a daily basis.

A $200,000 ticket is prohibitively expensive except for a small slice of the wealthy, but compared with the millions of dollars that government agencies like NASA typically spend to get experiments into space, “it’s revolutionary,” said S. Alan Stern, an associate vice president of the Southwest Research Institute’s space sciences and engineering division in Boulder, Colo. . . .

Dr. Stern’s institute announced Monday that it has signed a contract and paid the deposit to send two of its scientists up in Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle. Southwest also intends to buy six more seats — $1.6 million in tickets over all.

That follows an announcement on Thursday that Southwest is buying six seats from another suborbital company, XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif., which has been charging $95,000 a seat for tourists. XCOR’s Lynx space plane carries just two people — the pilot and the paying passenger — so each flight will carry an experiment and an institute scientist.

“We have built, on our own dime, three payloads,” Dr. Stern said. “We’re buying tickets, before there is a government program from suborbital providers, for our own people to fly with those experiments.”


D'oh! I really am embarrassed that I never thought about the research market for suborbital ventures.

The point is, these various private space enterprises not only will have research customers lined out the door, they will have strong financial incentives to develop full orbital capabilities, since there will be even more researchers who want to conduct experiments and place payloads in orbit.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit. ..fritz..


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posted by Open Blogger at 12:58 PM

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