He didn't count on Michael Lembeck, head of the Requirements Division of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. The directorate was tasked with developing systems both for sustaining the ISS and returning to the moon, and Lembeck and his colleagues had been looking for ways to start working with entrepreneurs with fresh ideas as well as the usual big aerospace contractors. T/Space fit the bill perfectly. He and Exploration Systems chief engineer Garry Lyles sent Hudson and Gump's proposal straight to Craig Steidle, head of the Directorate, and talked him into signing off on an initial $3-million study, with an option for another $3 million that was later also approved. "Within Exploration Systems, we have been pushing for new, innovative ideas," Lembeck says, "and we cut t/Space loose to get out of the realm of theory and into the practical."
Some of what t/Space
built with its $6 million in initial funding dominated an exhibit hall in
Washington, D.C., at this past spring's
International Space Development Conference, a gathering of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs from both the private and public sectors. A full-scale mock-up of the company's proposed Crew Transfer Vehicle, or CXV, filled the room, crowding the booksellers, space artists and other exhibitors to the edges. Attendees climbed through a rear hatch for tours guided by former NASA astronaut Jim Voss. Now t/Space's engineering manager, Voss flew on the space shuttle five times, lived on the ISS for five and a half months, and holds two aerospace engineering degrees. His experience with the shuttle, Soyuz (the Russian capsule NASA has relied on since the Columbia disaster) and space-station systems make him ideally suited to overseeing the building of the CXV.
The CXV comprises three systems: the crew capsule; a two-stage booster rocket powered by propane and liquid oxygen; and a carrier plane the size of a Boeing 747, called, in typically understated t/Space fashion, the Very Large Aircraft (VLA), which will haul the capsule and the attached rocket to a launch altitude of up to 50,000 feet. The capsule's struc-
tural components and the VLA are to be built by entrepreneur and designer Burt Rutan's company Scaled Composites, which last year sent the first commercial astronauts into space on board its SpaceShipOne. The booster, QuickReach, will be a larger version of those under development for the Department of Defense by Hudson's AirLaunch. Neither of the rocket's stages is reusable, but after parachuting to a nose-first landing in any convenient large body of water, the capsule will be refitted and flown again.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.