Researchers and educators interested in commercial suborbital reusable vehicles gathered together in Boulder, Colorado, for the 2013 Next-Generation Suborbital Conference (NSRC2013), from June 3 to 5. Keynote speakers included Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator, Michael Suffredini, International Space Station Program Manager and Michael Lopez-Alegria, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
Garver, who participated via video due to sequestration, said that NASA is not excluding the possibility that the Flight Opportunities program would fund human suborbital flight for research purposes. However, Garver also highlighted the fact that the agency did not receive all the funding requested in the past three years. Between 2010 and 2013, NASA has received and spent $29.5 million for the Flight Opportunities program, instead of the $45 million initially requested. However, Garver also said that the agency requested an additional $15 million for the next fiscal year. In the meantime, the NASA Flight Opportunities program is also pursuing suborbital research programs with payloads flown on balloons, sounding rockets and aeroplane flights.
Andrew Nelson, XCOR Chief Operating Officer, used the stage offered by NSRC2013 to warn of an incoming threat to commercial suborbital companies. The U.S. State Department proposed last month to add crewed spacecraft to the country’s munitions list. The measure will prevent companies like XCOR from exporting its spacecraft, and according to Nelson, will be a major step backward for an industry that has not yet started. The XCOR representative also appealed for the audience to oppose this move during the public comments period.
Although the first public flight of SpaceShipTwo has not yet been scheduled, Will Pomerantz, Virgin Galactic Vice President for Special Projects, has announced that almost 600 people have already booked their seat on the Virgin suborbital vehicle. Virgin Galactic are selling seats for over $200,000,and the firm is expecting to generate $120 million of revenue based on those orders.
Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration has licensed eight spaceports in the U.S; however, the first commercial flight has yet to materialize. Both Virgin Galactic and its direct competitor, Space Expedition Corporation, now hope to start operations between the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014.
Below, presentation of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program (Courtesy of NASA).