By Mike Deliman
With the recent demise of the ARES program, we are left without an institutional solution for accessing space. Not just returning to the Moon, etc, but maintaining our presence in orbit (ISS) without relying on someone else's technology for transportation. The cancellation of that program leaves a staggering hole in our plans for exploring space over the next 20 years. These were our "heavy lifters" – the machines designed to carry serious payloads aloft – the enablement of such grand plans as returning to the Moon and establishing a laboratory there, and carrying Man to Mars and beyond. The reasons cited were over-runs in costs and budgeted time. The idea was that the commercial sector would step in and show the Government "how to do space."
BUT that brings up the question: CAN the Commercial Sector Do Space? Not "can they design the technology?" – the answer to that is obviously "yes". Since the Apollo Era, rockets have been manufactured by the likes of Boeing, Lockheed, and many others for the Federal Government. And let's not forget Space Ship One and Burt Rutan's successful missions taking the Ansari-X prize with a privately funded venture. Technologically, yes, commercial entities CAN design successful space launches and fantastic new technologies. But.. what about financially? These heavy-lift rockets cost billions of dollars and a decade to design, test, validate and fly. Who could possibly endure that long of a delay and expense from proposal of a project to "launch"?
With recent news from the FAA regarding flight licensing, it looks like we will soon see!