Current Commercial Spaceflight | Out Of This World Weekly
After the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, America’s hopes for spaceflight were put into the hands of commercial spaceflight. The idea was to fund competing corporations so that they could handle orbital space operations and free up NASA for other tasks like planetary probes, robotic exploration, and even manned lights to other planets like Mars. This would mean that NASA would be working on a new rocket, the SLS project, and not just abandoning manned spaceflight altogether. This SLS rocket would be designed for deep space flight to the Moon, asteroids, and beyond. Since this would be a extremely large and powerful rocket, low Earth orbit missions to the I.S.S. wouldn’t be a priority, as smaller rockets could do that job at much less cost. So the corporations received their government funding and after a series of trials to make sure that they were meeting their goals, they are showing that they have what it takes to take care of everything in Low Earth Orbit.
Lately, commercial spaceflight has made some notable advances. Orbital Sciences has achieved a successful launch of their Antares rocket last week, showing that they are proceeding towards launching cargo to the I.S.S. later this year. Orbital Sciences is the second corporation to achieve spaceflight, after their competitor SpaceX has not only launched into orbit but also achieved a successful resupply of the space station earlier this year. Both of these corporations have plans on making a manned module to fit on top of their rockets for manned trips to the space station, although it may take until 2017 before these manned flights are ready to go. Another successful recent test of Virgin Galactic’s Space Ship Two breaking the sound barrier while testing their rocket engines shows that this company continues on the right track toward commercial spaceflight. Their one seat aircraft captured the X Prize in 2004 and their new Space Ship two is set to handle up to six passengers and two pilots Even NASA’s Orion capsule continues to successfully undergo testing with that capsule’s parachutes to achieve a human rating on that craft.
There have been a few setbacks for the commercial space programs. NASA just re-upped their commitment with Russia to launch astronauts on the Soyuz rocket, costing $424 million. This additional cost may strip the commercial programs of the few hundred million dollars that they seem to be short and push back their programs by about another year or two, changing a possible 2015 manned flight back to 2017. This is all money that could be spent here in America on advancing our space program and is instead being sent to Russia. Did I mention that Russia is charging an additional $8 million per astronaut more than the last time we had to make a deal with them? It is also quite possible that if full funding cannot be found, then these dates will slip back farther and farther, leaving us to question when will we get back a manned launch capability. Progress is being made by real professionals who are shooting for realistic goals. It is only a matter of time and funding before manned commercial space flight becomes an everyday reality.