Rutan hints at co-operation with NASA

by Chris Bergin

Burt Rutan founder of Scaled Composites, LLC, was recently in Washington to give US politicians an outline of his goals and ambitions on the future of manned space flight, while taking the opportunity to discuss a more open attitude with NASA.

Rutan, along with his Scaled Composites, LLC, team designed the acclaimed SpaceShipOne (SS1) for commercial space travel, which launched last year.  The ship was designed through the funding provided by former Microsoft co-founder Allen – which went on to win the $10 million Ansari X-Prise by successfully achieving two launches that broke the required altitude of 328,000 feet, twice within 14 days. The subsequent deal with Virgin Galactic, owned by the British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, will provide $22 million to be invested in the new ships. 
It is aimed that these new ships will launch the first passengers into space in the next two and a half years.
In specifically addressing the subject of the Future Market for Commercial Space, Rutan believes there are two possible scenarios:  The first, Rutan said, could envisage a situation where
“Commercial companies develop lower-cost versions of the classic government booster and spacecraft concepts,” and added “…and then conduct commercial flights that are funded by passenger ticket sales.” 
By this, Rutan went on to make a direct comparison with the trekking organisations that take ‘courageous adventurers’ up to the peak of Mount Everest and suggests that the safety record for all of government manned space flight is ‘hardly better’.  The fatality rate for trekkers to Everest is 4 to 9 per cent; the rate for human space flight is 4 per cent.
Rutan remarked that this scenario’s approach, “Will result in a very limited market” and “I do not believe this scenario will result in a significant volume of operations, being limited by the same factors that limit the Everest climbers.”
In his second and preferred scenario, Rutan noted his wish to see extensive improvements in safety as opposed to extensive improvements in affordability. “If successful”, he went on to say, “they will enjoy an enormous market, not one that is limited to servicing only a few courageous adventurers.
“It is likely that systems that come from this approach will be more like airplanes,” he added “and will operate more like airplanes than the historic systems used for govenment manned spaceflight.”
Rutan, met with NASA administrator Michael Griffin on April 20th, whilst in Washington.  In a transparent show of potential unity, the two rocket scientists found common ground on future synergy.
Griffin stated at his inauguration that one of his key tasks whilst in charge of the agency, was for closer co-operation with the private space flight industry – in which Rutan is instrumental, through his leadership.
Private space flight and NASA hasn’t always had an interlinked mentality over the years.  However, Griffin and Rutan may be about to come together on the shared goal of improved safety and reduced costs.
“Achieving that goal requires new generic concepts; ones that will come from true research,” said Rutan, “not merely development programs like the ones we are seeing with NASA’s exploration plans.”  

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