November 13, 2013
Private Partnerships Could Be Just The Fuel NASA Needs For Future Exploration
[ Watch the Video: Private Backing Could Help NASA With Future Mission ]
Will the next NASA mission to the Moon be “brought to you by Luna Nutrition Bars”?
According to a report released by the space agency on Tuesday, companies want to partner with NASA on future space endeavors, but will want property rights in exchange.
For now, NASA’s corporate partnership will most likely be limited solely to private space exploration companies such as SpaceX and with Orbital Sciences Corp, both of which currently have contracts to deliver cargo to the International Space Station worth a combined $3.5 billion.
According to the new NASA-commissioned report by Bigelow Aerospace, the space agency needs to continue its corporate partnerships for missions beyond the ISS, to the Moon and even into deep space.
“Corporations and investors will need what has motivated such players since the beginning of time, property rights,” the report said according to Irene Klotz of Discovery News.
Company founder Robert Bigelow said he plans to ask the Federal Aviation Administration to assess how to handle lunar property rights.
“Companies and their financial backers must know that they will be able to (1) enjoy the fruits of their labor relative to activities conducted on the moon or other celestial bodies, and (2) own the property that they have surveyed, developed and are realistically able to utilize,” the report said.
“Without property rights, any plan to engage the private sector (in lunar and deep space exploration) … will ultimately fail,” the report concluded.
[ Watch the Video: Highlights from Commercial Flights to the International Space Station ]
At a press conference on Tuesday in Washington DC, Bigelow warned that NASA’s trailblazer status could wane within ten years because it doesn’t currently have the resources needed for sending manned missions beyond low earth orbit "without significant help.”
"If there is no outside help over the next 10 years, only a very modest human exploration effort is possible," Bigelow said according to Ledyard King of the Gannett Washington Bureau.
He noted sending a manned mission to the moon or Mars will necessitate private assistance.
Due to a series of significant budget cuts, NASA’s current financial situation can easily be described as uncertain. However, NASA administrator William Gerstenmaier, head of the agency’s human exploration program, recently said "tremendous progress" is being made on the system being developed to bring men to Mars by the 2030s.
The program recently completed a preliminary rocket booster design review, parachute tests, a water recovery simulation, and the capsule’s heat shield, Gerstenmaier told reporters.
"The takeaway here is there's real work moving forward," Gerstenmaier said according to King. "This is no longer a paper program."
[ Watch the Video: Commercial Space Program Success ]
NASA’s 2013 budget was set at nearly $17 billion, down from just over $18 billion in 2011. A House congressional committee has approved a budget of $16.6 billion in fiscal 2014, in keeping with the budget cuts referred to as ‘the sequestration.’ President Barack Obama has requested a 2014 NASA budget of $17.7 billion.
Gerstenmaier said budgetary uncertainty is worse than a smaller budget because NASA projects typically take years to fund and build.
"But if we can build this program as sustainable with the funding levels we've got and it doesn't make or break or stop all activity, then we can make real progress," he said about the Mars mission.