NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

America Doesn't Need NASA to Stay On Top in Space

June 5, 2012

In the predawn hours of May 22, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. ("SpaceX") successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket that was topped with the company's Dragon capsule.  The unmanned Dragon is on course to dock with the International Space Station, where its 674 pounds of food and supplies will be welcomed by the crew on May 25, says Investor's Business Daily.

While the event is, in and of itself, a significant accomplishment, it signals an even broader movement that deserves attention: that American space travel will not die with the gradual phasing out of NASA.  In fact, the opening up of space travel to commercialization has already begun garnering attention from significant market shakers and movers.

  • In 2010, aerospace giant Boeing announced plans it will enter the space tourism business, with flights starting as soon as 2015.
  • Space Adventures, a Virginia company that has already arranged spaceflights in Russia's Soyuz flights, has a business model based on clients flying "on suborbital flights, on voyages to Earth orbit and on historic expeditions that circumnavigate the moon."
  • Virgin Galactic, part of Richard Branson's Virgin Group empire, has plans to take passengers on suborbital flights for $200,000 a flight (roughly 500 adventurous passengers have already bought tickets).
  • All of this is in addition to SpaceX's recent effort that will likely be followed up by more missions in the near future.

All of this speaks to the ability of entrepreneurs and open markets to respond to any void where commercialization is possible.  Despite NASA's decades of monopolization, the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year said it expects the space tourism business to be a $1 billion industry by 2022.

Certainly, Washington will and should maintain a role in regulating the space industry, making provisions for safety and security standards.  Nevertheless, the burgeoning activity of the private sector in space commercialization speaks to the incredible versatility and ambition of individual non-governmental actors.

Source: "America Doesn't Need NASA to Stay On Top in Space," Investor's Business Daily, May 22, 2012.

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