Dec 26, 2014 05:04 PM EST
On December 23, NASA announced new unfunded partnerships with four U.S. firms to help develop the spaceflight industry. Specifically, these firms will assist with developing new space capabilities for both government and non-government customers. That's right, these partnerships bring us that much closer to public spaceflight opportunities.
The four firms that NASA has tapped are:
Each firm specializes in a different category of spaceflight. They will be researching and developing space logistics, space suits, transportation capabilities and launch capabilities, respectively. All of this progress will be filed under the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC) initiative, an initiative designed to advance private sector development of integrated space capabilities through access to NASA's spaceflight resources. The initiative aims to ensure that emerging products or services are commercially available to government and non-government customers within approximately the next five years.
One of the largest obstacles in developing the spaceflight industry is funding. Nearly every project that is familiar to the American public costs in tens of millions, potentially even billions of dollars. Research for the International Space Station (ISS) and Solar Launch System (SLS), and even Apollo, ring in around $7 billion. Just getting an American astronaut on to the ISS, which is done from Russia and not the U.S., costs $70 million. So, funding for spaceflight research can easily come up short due to the fact that spending can go from expected to astronomical in the blink of an eye.
One major benefit to Space Agreement Acts (SAAs) like the one involved here with the CSCC is that no funds are exchanged. According to Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA Headquarters in Washington, "Companies in all shapes and sizes are investing their own capital toward innovative commercial space capabilities," minimizing the impact on government resources.
Working with the private sector has proved successful for NASA in the past. Having each company bear their own costs for participation while still having access to NASA's vast amounts of expertise, technologies and data could certainly be a winning formula.
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