With NASA's shuttle fleet to retire and a looming gap before a new spaceship debuts, the stage is set for private firms hoping to offer commercial cargo and crew services to the International Space Station (ISS).
Six contenders - from a field of more than 20 hopefuls - have weathered NASA's round of culling for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) effort, with the first awards slated to be announced in August, according to some competitors. NASA plans to spend about $500 million on the COTS effort over the next five years, the agency has said.
This is more in the spirit of an Aldridge Report
recommendation that said NASA should spell out missions, offer a prize, and let bottom-up competition figure out the best way to get the job done.
There's a global groundswell of support to build spaceports.
In the United States alone, political and financial muscle is at work to install spaceports in a number of states, be it in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas ... as well as Wisconsin. Other states, especially Florida, are busy trying not to be left behind in the spaceport sweepstakes by pushing for new space-industry legislation.
On the world scene, a Scotland spaceport has been touted. So too is building a spaceport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Also being advanced is Spaceport Singapore.
Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson announced late last year a partnership with Branson to put in place a spaceport in the state. Branson's Virgin Galactic will locate its world headquarters and mission control for its personal spaceflight business at the New Mexico spaceport, with start of operations projected for 2009/2010.
Burt Rutan thinks California is a better site for launches:
Rutan said that New Mexico may be good for military space operations, "but it's not good for us...we want our passengers to see the ocean," rather than just desert on their flights, the Mojave Desert News reported.
Related: Rutan Worries about FAA's Red Tape
Related: My interview with Burt Rutan