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NASA taps 7 commercial space companies for suborbital flights

NASA furthers is development of commercial space industry

By Layer 8 on Wed, 08/10/11 - 11:02am.

armadillo supermodNASA this week picked seven commercial space companies to fly a manner of experiments on their suborbital aircraft.

According to NASA the companies will split $10 million and get a two-year contract that will let NASA set up a pool of reusable suborbital systems that could help it test applications in everything from astrobiology to measuring the impact of a solar storm.

Background: Eight hot commercial space projects

The companies NASA picked include:

-- Armadillo Aerospace

-- Near Space Corp.

-- Masten Space Systems

-- Up Aerospace Inc.

-- Virgin Galactic

-- Whittinghill Aerospace LLC

-- XCOR Aerospace

Virgin Galactic noted that this arrangement marks the first time that NASA has contracted with a commercial partner to provide flights into space on a suborbital spacecraft, and represents another important endorsement of the value of regular commercial space access.

"NASA is moving toward the goal of making frequent, low-cost access to near-space available to a wide range of engineers, scientists and technologists," said NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun in a statement.

The suborbital moves are just part of NASA plan to adopt commercial space technologies. In April NASA split $270 million between Boeing ($92 million), Space Exploration Technologies (Space X--$75 million), Sierra Nevada ($80 million) and Blue Origin ($22 million) to continue development of commercial rockets and spacecraft capable of safely flying astronauts into orbit and to the International Space Station.

Meanwhile the Air Force recently said it was exploring the use of commercial companies for space support.  The Air Force Space Test Program will study the feasibility of using commercial capabilities to meet selected military launch needs for rapid and lower cost alternatives. Interest is in exploring possibilities of launches for individual Space Vehicles as payloads and Hosted Payloads. Space Vehicle Payloads are complete spacecraft in need of launch. Hosted Payloads are experiments needing a space vehicle, integration and testing, launch, and on-orbit operations support through the host space vehicle.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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