Shuttle-less NASA Buys Seats on Private Spaceship

Excellent space headline of the day:

NASA buys flights on private spaceship

Shortly after NASA's former deputy space shuttle program chief Mike Moses announced that he was hopping over to private space company Virgin Galactic, the (currently grounded) government agency announced plans to continue its research mission in suborbital space by chartering a private spaceship.

NASA tallied the cost of each shuttle flight at about $450 million—and many put the real total closer to $1 billion. 

The NASA deal with Virgin Galactic for three flights? $4.5 million. 

Read lots more on the private space race, including the other companies that might soon be vying for the government's space business.

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  • Joe M||

    NASA tallied the cost of each shuttle flight at about $450 million—and many put the real total closer to $1 billion.

    The NASA deal with Virgin Galactic for three flights? $4.5 million.

    So the multiplier effect, in this case, was 100?

  • The Other Kevin||

    No, 300. $4.5M is for THREE flights, vs. $450M for ONE.

  • Bean Counter||

    We've gone from a whole nation proudly landing their astronauts on the moon to a few rich experiencing sub-orbital weightlessness thrills for a couple minutes.

    It's the multiplier effect.

    Singularity is just around the corner.

  • This Dave||

    I'm a big fan of privatizing space exploration, but these numbers are a ridiculous apples-to-oranges comparison.
    A sub-orbital flight that won't be carrying any cargo besides passengers is HUGELY different from an orbital flight that carries satellites, space station modules, etc. This is like comparing the cost of building a lemonade stand to the cost of building a five-star restaurant (albeit one with a slew of problems). When Branson&Rutan; start running orbital flights, THAT will be the triumph.

  • ||

    SPACE X BABY!!!!!!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    So Branson is just another evil NASA contractor now.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    I've taken in government work before, beginning back in the Clinton administration. I guess now I'll have to change my handle to Evil Government Contrator.

  • ||

    Get back to me when Virgin is able to open the door in space.

  • Tman||

    SpaceX is supposed to be testing their capsule docking mechanism with the ISS in November. The last Space Shuttle mission tested SpaceX's docking mechanism on its last mission and apparently it worked fine.

    I just hope that they launch successfully, which would mean we can start hiring a US company to send stuff in to orbit.

  • ||

    So NASA is back to suborbital, eh?

    I'll be so happy when they learn to let go and we have a number of manned orbital carriers.

  • *||

    Apples to oranges, no?

    Those shuttle cost figures were for orbital.

    VirginGalactic doesn't even have anything in the works for orbital yet.

  • Apatheist||

    Yes, I'm sure getting to orbital will cost 300 times more...

    It's more like comparing different kinds of apples.

  • roystgnr||

    Why is it ridiculous that getting to orbital might cost 300 times more? The rocket equation is an exponential.

    If you want to brag about private enterprise beating NASA on cost efficiency, you've got to look at SpaceX. "We can send stuff to space cheaply" is much more impressive when you don't have to follow up with "but then it falls right back down again".

  • *||

    I'm no rocket surgeon, but I'm pretty sure orbital is a fairly larger logistical challenge. Or maybe they just need to put some more fuel in the white-knight and they'll be on their way. I guess we'll find out.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Accelerating that extra fuel requires extra-er fuel. Which itself requires extra-er-er fuel.

  • *||

    No shit.

  • tarran||

    Another problem is how to slow down to return to Earth.

    To use rocket engines to slow the spacecraft down outside the Earth's atmosphere is prohibitive (if I did my calcs correctly requires launching with 8 times as much fuel as the other methods).

    Everybody uses the atmosphere to slow their craft down. The problem is in making the spacecraft strong enough to take the stresses of aero-braking.

    For a craft hitting the air at orbital speeds, a heavy ablative shield (as used in Soyuz) or exotic material (Shuttle tiles) is required, which of course makes the craft much heavier.

    The Virgin Galactic ships use Rutan's "shuttle-cock" configuration which really cuts down on the weight of the spacecraft, but is only survivable for entry at suborbital velocities.

  • DJF||

    Plus the shuttle had a 15 foot by 60 foot cargo bay and could carry tens of thousands of pounds of cargo as well as passengers

  • Lamarck's Giraffe||

    Yeah, as others have mentioned, its a dumb comparison. I'd be happy to sell the US Navy three really nice boats. They can pay me 1/300 the cost of an aircraft carrier. Heck, I'll also sell NASA some rides on a Cesna. I can save them even more money.

    Private groups (like SpaceX) may be able to get to orbit and the space station at a cheaper price than the shuttle, but Virgin Galactic will not do that. Apples to fucking oranges.

  • Reason||

    I always get abandoned when there's ideological points to make...

  • Realist||

    I believe in small government and space exploration should be left to private enterprize.
    Government interest in space should be for military purposes only....and very little of that.

  • ||

    Yes, Virgin Galactic is suborbital, and suborbital flight is much, much easier than attaining orbit and coming back.

    However, the point could be even better made with SpaceX. SpaceX has already flown its 7-man Dragon capsule into orbit and back safely, using its own Falcon 9 rocket. The only thing keeping them from putting people in the ISS today is the lack of a launch escape system required for man-rating their system. And that will be done soon. SpaceX is on track to dock an unmanned Dragon with ISS either late this year or early next year, with manned flights to follow in a couple of years after their launch abort system is finished.

    It gets better: While the current Falcon 9 is roughly equivalent to an Atlas 5 or Delta V in payload capability, it can put that payload into orbit for less than half the cost of the shuttle, and almost 2/3 less than the Atlas.

    It gets even better: SpaceX will soon be flying the Falcon Heavy, a rocket bigger than anything flown other than the Saturn V. It has twice the payload capability of the Shuttle, but it will put that payload in space for 1/6 of the cost of the Shuttle. Furthermore, SpaceX is already offer binding contracts at that price.

    The space industry is progressing faster than it ever has. Except now it's being done privately, and for much lower costs that will create new demand and open up space to more applications.


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