Giving Low Earth Orbit Launches to Commercial Space Because It’s Easy

written by David Mixson

NASA gave low-earth orbit launches to Commercial Space because Old Space NASA didn’t have the horsepower to get there ourselves.

But that’s not what the posters say.

When SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X Prize competition by sending a rocket plane 69.6 miles straight up, my colleagues said:

“But they didn’t go into orbit around the earth.”

When SpaceX successfully launched payloads into space on a privately funded launch vehicle, my colleagues said:

“But there weren’t any humans onboard.”

When the Falcon 9 first-stage booster segment crashed on its first attempt to land on a barge out at sea, my colleagues chuckled and said:

“See, space travel is hard.”

When the Falcon Heavy landed its two booster segments back on earth less than a mile from where they took off, my colleagues said:

“But Elon overworks his employees.”

When SpaceX and Orbital each successfully designed and built a launch vehicle capable of taking cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), my colleagues said:

“But those vehicles are small compared to SLS.”

And when SpaceX and Boeing each won the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) contracts to ferry astronauts to and from ISS, my colleagues said:

“We’re giving low-earth orbit to the little guys because it’s easy.”

Just the Facts

If it was so easy, why wasn’t Old Space able to do it? The truth is that NASA tried on the Advanced Launch System (ALS) in the late 1980s, the National Launch System (NLS) in the early 1990s, the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLLV) and Shuttle-C in the late 1990s. And when each of those was canceled, we tried again with Constellation in the mid-2000s (which was also canceled).

And I’m probably forgetting one or two others.

Now we have the Space Launch System (SLS), which was started in 2011. Why has it taken us over 12 years to get this vehicle flying when it uses rocket motors built for the Shuttle program?

If it was easy, why has NASA failed so many times?

The Real Truth

NASA gave up low earth orbit to the little guys because today’s NASA couldn’t get the job done—at least based on the facts. And to suggest otherwise, frankly, is extremely insulting to the Commercial Space engineers and technicians who are opening the doors to space travel at unprecedented speeds and making it look easy.

This is how today’s NASA twists the truth to fill the narrative.

More smoke and mirrors.

NOTE: Throughout these articles, I use the terms Commercial Space, New Space, and Private Sector Space to mean the same thing. I explain all this in New Space Guide: A Fresh Approach to Doing Space.


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About the Author

David Mixson writes about Old Space and New Space. He worked as an engineer at NASA for more than thirty years and is the author of three books.

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