Space 2.0: Will Obama’s Signing New NASA Legislation Create the Next Google?


Google move over! The world's first trillion corporation may turn out to be one of today's emerging space ventures. 

The legislation Obama has signed signals a new era in space exploration led by private commercial funding and innovation in much the same way the computer industry evolved from government funding to private venture capital and gave birth to the Internet Era. The legislation calls for funds to be allocated to the development of commercial crew launch services. NASA has been given a new direction and mandate, one that will seek to put astronauts in orbit using privately run launch services. The legislation, passed by Congress last week, mandates the agency to fly the space station until 2020 and to launch one extra shuttle next year, and instructs NASA to start work on a rocket for deep-space exploration.

The act marks a sea change in the way Nasa does some of its business, particularly in the realm of human spaceflight, calling for $1.3 billion to be allocated to the development of commercial crew services over the next three years.

The money will seed private companies to design and build rockets and capsules capable of delivering astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The legislation also signals a formal end to the Constellation program begun under President George Bush that sought to return humans to the Moon with a new spaceship called Orion and two new rockets called Ares 1 and Ares 5. Much of its technology and know-how will now be directed into an alternative rocket system big enough to launch a spaceship, or at least some of its elements, on missions that go far beyond the ISS.

Nasa will aim to fly one last shuttle to the space station, probably in June or July 2011These ventures are likely to include asteroids and, eventually, Mars.

Legislators want Nasa to receive $11.5bn over the next six years to have the new heavy-lift rocket ready for operation by 31 December 2016. Critics of the legislation have questioned whether the funding being requested is sufficient for the task, but Florida Senator Bill Nelson who helped build bipartisan support for the legislation said it should be ample.

"If we can't develop a new rocket for $11.5bn, building on a lot of the technologies that were already developed in spending $9bn – if we can't do it for that then we ought to question whether we can build a rocket."

The act authorises $19bn for Nasa in the federal year 2011, a significant increase on 2010, which will allow the agency to expand its activities in a number of areas, including in Earth observation where some missions have been allowed to run past their nominal lifetimes without replacements being ordered up in time to prevent data gaps.

Casey Kazan via BBC News


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