US privatises Shuttle production
Next generation in space: Embarrassed Nasa chief looks to recapture technological lead
Wednesday 03 July 1996
On a landmark day for the venerable NASA space agency, which has maintained complete control over the United States' space programme since 1958, the US government yesterday turned to private industry to develop a new breed of shuttles with a mission to take pay- loads into space more efficiently and, above all, more cheaply than is possible with the existing shuttles.
Vice-President Al Gore announced at a ceremony in California that the contract to develop a prototype of the new space craft had been awarded to Lockheed Martin. The aerospace and defence company, which defeated high-stakes competition from McDonnell Douglas and Rockwell International, is proposing a stubby, delta-shaped vehicle, which, like the existing ones, will take off vertically and land horizontally.
With the new ship, the US will attempt to regain what used to be its unassailable dominance of space. In the past decade, NASA has watched in dismay as almost two-thirds of the world market for rocket launchings has slipped away to other competitors, especially the European Ariane space programme.
Earlier this year, the chief of NASA, Daniel Goldin, shocked the US space industry when, in delivering testimony on Capitol Hill, he bemoaned the extent to which America had allowed its lead to fall behind. The entire US space community "should hang its head in shame", he said. "We can't go on like this. It's embarrassing."
The drive to privatise NASA's operations is also being fuelled by restiveness in Congress with the sky-high costs of the Shuttle programme, caused in part by the overriding concern with safety following the 1986 disaster. Already this year, contracts have been signed with the United Space Alliance, which is a joint venture of Lockheed Margin and Rockwell International, to take over from October much of the management of the existing shuttle fleet.
However, the task for Lockheed Martin will not be an easy one. The craft must be totally resuable, be able to go from Earth into orbit in a single- stage launch - without shedding any parts, such as boosters or fuel tanks. It will "move as fast as the fastest rocket and manoeuvre with the agility of a jet", Mr Gore said. "This is the craft that can carry America's dreams aloft and lead our nation into a sparkling new century."
Above all, however, the new craft must be cheaper to operate. A single launch of the existing shuttles typically costs around $500m, which translates to about $10,000 per pound. The new shuttle will be expected to fly into space at a cost of just $1,000 per pound.
The initial contract awarded yesterday is worth $941m for the development of a single prototype aircraft which will be half the size of the operational machine. Scheduled to be ready for tests in 1999, the prototype will only be required to demonstrate its flying abilities.
NASA, meanwhile, has said that it expects to be able to keep the existing fleet of shuttles flying until about 2010.
- 3 The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
- 4 Phil Neville backtracks on Tomas Rosicky 'I'd smash him' comments from Match of the Day 2
- 5 SAG Awards: Fake applause track interrupts Reese Witherspoon
Rowan Atkinson to sell £10 million McLaren 'supercar' he crashed into a tree and a lamppost
Paris attacks: Do not call Charlie Hebdo killers 'terrorists', BBC says
Asteroid narrowly scrapes past Earth: how to watch the closest space rock for decades as it flies by
UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...
£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...
£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...