There’s been a lot of blogging recently regarding various teams competing for contracts under the NASA’s COTS program for commercial resupply of the ISS. Most of the focus to-date has been on SpaceX’s Dragon, t/Space’s CXV, and SpaceHab’s Apex capsule (I think I’ve briefly discussed all three at various points on this blog), to the point that some people seem to think that those three were the only three that submitted. I don’t know what the total number of submissions was, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had at least a dozen proposals including both big alt.space companies, little ones, and more traditional Big Aerospace companies. One of the smaller alt.space companies that submitted a proposal, but that hasn’t been mentioned anywhere on the other space blogs so far, is Venturer Aerospace.
The founder of Venturer Aerospace is a good friend of mine, George Herbert. George is pretty well known in the alt.space community, but if you haven’t happened to meet him, he’s a good guy to know. Venturer is a spinoff company from his other space company, Retro Aerospace, that is focused entirely on the manned capsule part of space transportation (as opposed to Retro which also focuses on boosters, and all sorts of other projects). George’s company is also located here in the Silicon Valley area, and I knew he had submitted a proposal, so I pinged him and asked if he could give us any information about what he was up to. Here’s the formal announcement he sent me a link to (follow the link for some simple art illustrating the basic design of his capsule):
March 15, 2006 – Venturer Aerospace announced today that it is pursuing a contract to demonstrate commercial manned orbital transportation services under the NASA COTS program, utilizing the Venturer S-550 manned orbital capsule vehicle. Venturer’s proposal was submitted to NASA on March 3.
The S-550 is a reusable space capsule launched on expendable launch vehicles such as the SpaceX Falcon-5 or Falcon-9 launch vehicles. The production series S-550 is intended to carry a pilot, two passengers, and over two tons of internal payload or additional passengers to low orbit destinations such as the International Space Station. The full orbital vehicle includes a separate service module and space for external oversized cargo. The S-550 system is intended to fulfil all of NASA’s COTS requirements for cargo and crew rotation.
Under this proposal, Venturer Aerospace intends to develop and test fly unmanned and manned subscale test capsules, and then full sized S-550 test and manned demonstrator capsules. A total of six test flights, including an optional NASA COTS Requirement D station crew rotation demonstration flight, are included in our test program plan. S-550 development and demonstration test flights for the NASA COTS Requirement A, B, and C cargo/logistics missions are intended to take place from 2007 to 2009 at a cost to NASA of about a quarter of the total $500 million COTS program budget, including launch costs. The Requirement D followon demonstration flight will take place in 2010 under our proposed schedule.
This same vehicle is intended to serve both commercial and NASA government customers. Orbital space tourist operations are a large part of the Venturer Aerospace midterm business plan, and we intend to operate commercial tourist services at lower prices than competing international vehicles.
The 10 foot diameter S-550 capsule system is designed to launch inside the payload shroud of the SpaceX Falcon-9 launch vehicle. The capsule is a sphere-cone geometry, very similar to a scaled up version of the Discoverer/Corona spy satellite film return capsules, which flews hundreds of successful missions in the 1960s and 70s.
The S-550 capsule has a design weight of 3,200 kilograms (7,040 lb), with a 1,750 kilogram (3,850 lb) service module and combined internal and external cargo capacity of 2,500 kilograms (5,500 lb). The S-550 uses a traditional ablative heatshield during atmospheric reentry, and parachutes to a landing at a continental US landing site. The nose cone of the S-550 includes a no-moving-parts metal foam shock absorber system which will absorb landing impact and cushion the crew. After landing, the outer shell and heatshield will be removed and replaced, with the reusable inner capsule being refitted for further flights.
Initial testing will include parachute and shock absorber landing tests of subscale and full scale S-550 capsules, and launch escape system tests. These tests will establish the S-550’s ability to safely handle two of the more risky parts of actual orbital flight.
Venturer Aerospace intends to begin full scale engineering and space operations from a facility in Hayward, California later during 2006.
It will be interesting to see how he does. One of the nice things about George’s approach as he’s explained it to me in the past is that it is very incremental, and he can get to some of his first risk reduction technology demonstrators off of very little initial investment. With SpaceX not needing a huge amount of money to finish their design, and SpaceHab already trying to privately develop their Apex modules, one can hope that there will be enough seed money left over in the COTS program to fund a few of these other approaches. I’d love to see three or four US companies flying people and cargo to space on a regular basis before the end of this decade. That’d be tres cool.