Sunday, July 16, 2006

Fun and Profit with NASA Cast Offs!

The last 2 weeks have seen the re-unveiling of 2 projects that were developed by NASA, paid for by NASA and then discarded because NASA didn't want them.

In the late 80's NASA developed the HL-20 Mini-shuttle right down the street here at NASA's Langley Reasearch Center. It was intended to complement the space shuttle as well as be used as an escape craft from the ISS. Realizing that having a far cheaper reuseable (if cargo limited)alternative to the shuttle might cause that porkathon to be reconsidered they terminated the project after it had pretty much been finished.

Now Space Dev has unvieled the Dream Chaser reuseable spacecraft which is competing for a NASA ISS resuply contract.
The HL-20 design was purchased and has been modified with 6 rather than the original 10 passengers in favor of more fuel for on orbit manuvering. Space-Dev plans to have it in orbit in 4 years! It'll beat the CEV...which means Buckethead would get a free Indian dinner...paid for by me! CURSE YOU SPACE-DEV!

In the 90's NASA poured money into inflateable space least until they began to show promise. After the program was scrapped the company that had been doing the work for NASA continued development. Now Bob Bigelow has just sucessfully launched the prototype of what is hoped to be a series of inflateable space hotels! That's a mockup to the right and a picture of the actual prototype in orbit below it.

On the one hand this is galling as the reasons for NASA's disinterest seem to have been primarily beauraucratic in nature. OTOH not only do entrepanuers see the potential, but in Griffin, NASA is led by a fellow who is not working to actively stifle private investment in Space, but to encourage it through things like the COTS program that Dream Chaser is competing in.

And that's both heartening and extremely cool :)

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