While national governments and the space agencies that represent them continue to micromanage and act as "project supervisors" rather than the "customers" they actually are, the real stories of our next great space age slowly flow across the internet.
Here are three of the more indicative from SpaceX, Reaction Engines and Virgin Galactic:
- As outlined in the October 8th, 2012 "This Week" article "What the SpaceX launch means for private space flight" the Sunday launch of the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 9 launcher with a fully loaded dragon capsule on a supply run to the International Space Station (ISS) is "officially beginning a new era in which NASA will count on private companies to carry cargo and, eventually, people into orbit." But it's also a validation of the demonstrated cost savings provided under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and the various follow-on programs developed using the US Space Act Agreement framework. As outlined in the article “Why is NASA's cost modeling and estimation so off when analyzing SpaceX's development methodology in comparison to NASA's own,” this new methodology seems to have allowed SpaceX to drive development costs down by an order of magnitude. Of course, nothing is ever perfect and that would include the secondary launch payload (an ORBCOMM OG2 prototype satellite) which ended up in the wrong orbit, as described in the October 8th Parabolic Arc article "Falcon 9 Puts ORBCOMM Satellite into Wrong Orbit."
- Of course, the US isn't alone in developing new and innovative ways of getting to space. But while the Americans at SpaceX used innovative procurement methodologies to drive down the cost of a traditional rocket launcher, the Brits at Reaction Engines seem to be in the midst of creating a real revolution in technology. According to the October 8th, 2012 article on the UK based Engineer website titled "Skylon and SABRE: your questions answered," the company is testing (not just building) a combined cycle, air breathing rocket/jet engine which they think is capable of reaching Earth orbit in a single stage, then returning to land like an airplane. With a genesis going back to the 1980's (when the original design was known as HOTOL or HOrizontal Take-Off and Landing) the current design is starting to show promise, at least according to the October 4th, 2012 Parabolic Arc article "Skylon Update: Big Bucks, Buck Rogers."
- Of course, some companies are well past the development stage and even almost through the testing stage. Once those stages are taken care of, all you really need is the proper corporate structure and this seems to be the story behind the October 8th, 2012 article on the Space Travel website titled "Virgin Galactic Acquires Full Ownership of The Spaceship Company." According to the article, the "completion of the acquisition comes as Virgin Galactic and Scaled (Composites) begin to plan the handover of the SS2 (Space Ship 2) development program to Virgin Galactic." The article gives no indication of when commercial operations will begin, although the flight test program "is well under way" along a path which will lead to "commercial operations, which will be based at Spaceport America in New Mexico."