The NASA Future Forum held Dec. 9 at Seattle’s Museum of Flight was all about the approach of creating a new economy out in space, getting private enterprise to take over the work in low-Earth-orbit while the NASA plans for getting us out beyond the Moon to deep space. As if to underscore that point, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver broke some milestone news during her keynote address at the forum.
“We have set the target date for launch on February 7 next year for SpaceX’s second commercial orbital transportation services (COTS) demonstration,” Garver announced. “Pending all the final safety reviews and testing, SpaceX will send its Dragon spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station in less than two months.”
It would be the first commercial linkup with the space station.
Garver noted that NASA has invested some significant seed money, about $800 million, in COTS for getting crew and cargo to the ISS. The February mission will give SpaceX the chance to show what it can do.
“It is the opening of that new commercial cargo delivery era for ISS, and it’s great news for NASA and SpaceX together,” Garver said.
Garver said the new approach makes sense. NASA’s gig has always been to learn the unknown and create knowledge and technology. LEO is hardly a mystery any more, and private companies are demonstrating that they can do it. She adds that if the private sector and competition can lower launch costs, it will leave more resources for the science.
“We’re here to learn from each other, just like we have for all of these years, how we can more effectively advance personal and commercial space flight, how we can more effectively transition the technologies that we develop at NASA to the private sector to create those high-paying jobs and open up endless possibilities for economic growth,” Garver said. “Together we are truly developing an industry that until recently had been largely science fiction, but now it stands poised to open the new frontier, that next chapter in human space development.”
Commercial space transportation already is a significant industry. In 2009, according to Garver, it generated $208 billion in economic activity in the U.S., employing about a million people who brought home $53 billion in wages.
She disagrees with the notion that the end of the space shuttle program was some sort of signal that the United States was no longer in the space game.
“Our job is just beginning,” she said. “The excitement and adventure is just beginning, and the opening of the space frontier is just beginning.”
She said the agency fully embraces the approach and NASA’s agenda: “Investing the nation’s valuable tax dollars to assure a healthier, more competitive industrial base that advances technology, provides more scientific benefit, and expands humanity’s presence farther than ever before while creating new markets, new industries, and new jobs to enhance our national security and our economic future.”
NASA has always had partners from the private sector, and Garver referred to the aerospace industry as a community.
“What we are trying to do is have our whole community gain a competitive advantage, moving out faster on this ambitious new direction that our nation’s leaders have given us,” she said. “Developing new technologies, developing partnerships, providing opportunities for competition and innovation, and looking for ways to get the most mileage out of all of the hard work over the decades that this community has invested in the fields of engineering, science, aeronautics, and technology.”
“This is what will inspire the next generation.”
You can watch Garver’s entire talk on the NASA-TV video below.