- background

Written by Bob McCormick on 10/10/2006 10:49:00 PM

This is the first of a series of blog entries I will be devoting to a general topic called "". In this series, I hope to touch on the history of, who is involved, and what they are doing. I'll also be interjecting my thoughts/opinions into where I think things are headed. (Hey - it's my blog, so it's my rules!)

For those of you who don't know, "", as defined in wikipedia, is "...a community of relatively new aerospace companies working to develop low cost access to space or spaceflight technologies, and low cost spaceflight technical and policy advocates". This is the first of (hopefully) a series of blog entries, where I'll attempt to share what I know (which may not take long!).

The community is a relatively small, but perhaps the most important, aerospace community in the United States. These companies are collectively and individually working in areas that could potentially significantly lower the cost of launching payload weight to orbit. Current costs for payload weight to orbit vary by the payload and by the vehicle it's flown on. However, a good estimate for payload weight cost to orbit is approximately $10,000/lb - which is more than what a pound of gold costs. Historically, excluding commercial telecommunications companies, only government agencies (e.g., NASA an Dept. of Defense in the US) have been able to justify the cost.

Most companies are working on projects that decrease payload weight to orbit costs by an order of magnitude (that is, down to approximately $1000/lb). At these costs, it is envisioned that many more customers will be attracted to launch payloads to orbit. This method was useful in development and promotion of the Ansari X-Prize. The X-Prize was to be given to the first company which could develop a vehicle which could deliver a standard payload (with pilot) to orbit, and perform the same feat within two weeks, without removal of a significant portion of the vehicle. Burt Rutan and Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft) formed Mojave Aerospace Ventures and won the $10 million prize on October 4, 2004. They are currently forming a joint venture with Sir Richard Branson, forming a new company called Virgin Galactic. The State of New Mexico has pledged approximately $200 million to develop an area between Las Cruces and White Sands as a Spaceport that Virgin Galactic can use to develop a suborbital tourism industry, with regular suborbital flights into space. Their efforts will be regulated (under special regulations) with the FAA.

I personally think that community holds quite a bit of economic potential. I'll be blogging more about where I think is, and where it's headed - so stay tuned!

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