The space shuttle program may be over, but that doesn’t mean the space industry is dormant.
George Nield, the head of the Office for Commercial Space Transportation (AST) at the Federal Aviation Administration, laid out some possibilities about where the industry may go after the space shuttle. He delivered his budget request today before the space and aeronautics subpanel of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
At the moment, Nield said, the United States relies on foreign governments to ferry American astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station. He is expecting a busy year, though, with a slate of private space launches. Two companies, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp., are vying to take over cargo-carrying responsibilities.
SpaceX, a California-based company started by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, will test-launch a cargo-carrying rocket next month, said Kirstin Grantham, a spokesperson for SpaceX. By the end of the year, SpaceX expects to begin the first of 12 missions carrying cargo to the space station.
Dulles-based Orbital Sciences Corp. will conduct two test launches and one cargo launch by the end of the year, said spokesman Barron Beneski. Over the next four years, Beneski said, Orbital will launch eight rockets from a NASA-administered spaceport in Wallops Island, Va.
Both companies are licensed by AST, though they are doing contract work for NASA.
In his remarks to the House panel, Nield said space tourism will grow to a billion-dollar industry within 10 years.
To accommodate the increase in launches, he is asking for a 2 percent increase in AST’s 2013 budget.