Thursday, December 16, 2010

Commercial Spaceships

Orbital Sciences Corporation is working with NASA to develop a "blended body" human-rated spaceship to transport people to and from low Earth orbit. Blended body vehicles are extremely aerodynamic, which strongly suggests OSC sees the craft as being able to maneuver in the atmosphere, probably land on a runway, and flying multiple missions. The spaceship would launch atop an Atlas 5 rocket. OSC has also contracted with Virgin Galactic to use VG's WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft in test flights of its blended body. VG has made it clear it intends to offer orbital flights in short order. A relationship with OSC's manned orbital spaceship program may be a step in that direction.

The Sierra Nevada Corporation, based in Reno, is also working with NASA to complete development of the company's DreamChaser. DreamChaser has had a difficult history, not least because of financial problems, but it might yet fly. DreamChaser is another spaceplane-type vehicle.

Four hundred miles or so down the highway from Reno sits Bigelow Aerospace. BA is looking for a way to get people to and from low Earth orbit regularly and relatively inexpensively so it can begin building space stations. If things go right, BA may soon see that problem solved.

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