May 29, 2010

Space Companies Combine to Build Robot Landers

Two California companies have teamed up to develop new private, unmanned space vehicles that NASA could send to the moon, Mars and beyond.

The companies are XCOR Aerospace, specializing in rocket engines, and Masten Space Systems. According to a joint announcement this week, the companies hope to combine their areas of expertise in anticipation of NASA-sponsored unmanned lander projects.

President Barack Obama's new plan for NASA involves dumping the space shuttle program and substituting it with commercial spacecraft and services.

The new plan cancels NASA's earlier Constellation program, which was in charge of new moon landers and other vehicles. The agency's shuttle fleet only has two more missions planned.

Michael Mealling of Masten Space Systems said NASA may not be the only potential customers for the team's unmanned landing craft and technology.  He said that there are dozens of private teams and groups competing for the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize to send robot probes to the moon.

Dave Masten, founder and President of Masten Space System, said XCOR and Masten happen to be "next door neighbors" in California's Mojave Desert.

"We've worked together on many tactical problems over the years and our corporate cultures mesh well," Masten said in a statement. "Working together on something like this simply made too much sense."

XCOR Aerospace has created liquid oxygen powered propulsion systems for NASA, and also built similar engines for the public debut of the Rocket Racing League, which showcases NASCAR-style competitions in the sky.

Both companies have proposed development of their own individual suborbital rocketships in the plaits, such as XCOR's Lynx concept.  However, according to the joint statement, now they have combined to market their complementary skill sets and services to NASA as prime contractors.

"It's a no brainer, Dave's team is the absolute best New Space company when it comes to VTVL and autopilot unmanned operations "” they demonstrated that in October by winning NASA's lander challenge," said Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer of XCOR Aerospace, in a statement. "And we feel our LOX/methane engines are unsurpassed in the trade space today by anyone."

"We should bring this tandem set of best in class capabilities to NASA, it just makes sense for them and for us," Nelson concluded.


Image caption: Masten Space Systems' XA0.1B, or 'Xombie,' vehicle takes off on the second leg of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.


On the Net:

XCOR Aerospace

Masten Space Systems