NASA's Venture Class Launch Services program designed to attract small rocket companies to Kennedy Space Center has selected three for development awards of several million dollars apiece.
The three companies are being funded to start up a new class of rocket business, designed to send up tiny satellites that now are becoming increasingly popular, particularly the "CubeSats," which are smaller than most toaster ovens.
The three companies selected to provide these new commercial launch capabilities, and the value of their firm fixed-price contracts, are:
Firefly Space Systems Inc. of Cedar Park, Texas, $5.5 million Rocket Lab USA Inc. of Los Angeles, $6.9 million Virgin Galactic LLC of Long Beach, California, $4.7 million.
They are developing a new class of rockets that NASA dubbed "Venture Class," much smaller than current rockets, but still capable of carrying very small payloads into lower-Earth orbit.
NASA also is developing a launch pad complex at Kennedy Space Center specifically to handle the small rockets.
At present, launch opportunities for small satellites and science missions mostly are limited to rideshare-type arrangements, flying only when space is available on NASA and other launches.
“LSP is attempting to foster commercial launch services dedicated to transporting smaller payloads into orbit as an alternative to the rideshare approach and to promote the continued development of the U.S. commercial space transportation industry,” Jim Norman, director of Launch Services at NASA Headquarters in Washington, stated in a news release. “VCLS is intended to help open the door for future dedicated opportunities to launch CubeSats and other small satellites and science missions.”
The driving force is the development of micro satellite technologies like CubeSats, which may see great growth potential, both for NASA and government purposes and for private communication and science uses. However, the growth of the industry is slowed because the potential users need to find cheap and reliable rides into space for the inexpensive satellites.
“Emerging small launch vehicles have great potential to expand the use of small satellites as integral components of NASA’s Earth science orbital portfolio,” Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, stated in the news release.
Quelle: Orlando Sentinel