A NASA contractor wants to go all Brett Favre on America's space shuttles, pulling them out of retirement past their prime to keep them going, even if it's to play for the other side.
United Space Alliance, which manages the shuttle program for NASA, wants to spend $1.5 billion annually to fly two missions a year from 2013 to 2017, using Endeavour and Atlantis.
It would bridge the gap between the end of the shuttle program and the start of privately run space taxis, and help prevent American reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
The shuttles couldn't emerge from retirement until 2013, however, after the construction of a new external tank. The last tank ever made is dedicated for Atlantis, which will be ready to fly a rescue mission during Endeavour's April mission. If it's not needed, Atlantis will close out the shuttle program with its final mission in June.
United Space Alliance broached the subject as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Development Initiative, a program to encourage private shuttle replacements. NASA disbursed $50 million in stimulus funds to five companies as part of the initiative, and USA is the only one to suggest continuous shuttle use. NASA has $200 million for a second round of the initiative. Competitors include SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, which are already receiving NASA funds to develop cargo transportation systems.
Mark Nappi, head of USA's Florida operations, told Florida Today it's worth a shot to include the shuttle among other commerical options, because they have more than proven themselves: "It is safe. We have a lot of history, we understand how to operate it," he said.
The company proposed a six-month study of the privatized-shuttle option, which is actually not a new concept — NASA has studied it going back at least a decade. Meanwhile, NASA is apparently looking at the costs of keeping Endeavour in flight-ready status at Kennedy Space Center after its final launch, MSNBC reported last week. Space shuttle Discovery has already been promised to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
The $1.5 billion price tag is about the same cost as NASA's cargo contract with SpaceX, which involves at least 12 trips to the International Space Station. It's about half the cost ($3.1 billion) budgeted for the space shuttle program in 2010, according to USA Today.
The whole plan is a long shot, however. Nappi said he told his employees as much to avoid giving them false hope.
I hope if they're bringing the shuttle back, Bigelow aerospace rents it out to put up they're Ba 2100 (2100 cubic meters, twice the size of the current ISS). Im not actually sure if the shuttle is large enough for that but since the module is expandable, it could possibly fall into the limits of the space shuttle. If not, you could still put quite a few BA-330's in there plus use the external tank as further space. I imagine the minds of a private enterprise could make use of the otherwise wasted external fuel tank.
I wonder who is going to buy it. Perhaps a consortium that can radically improve the techonology or some developing county which wants to start their own space program, in wich case my sincere condolences. The shuttle doesn't have the best track record.
@risho did you read the article at all? United Space Alliance. and considering the there is nothing in world to compare to the shuttle and it has run WAY over its expected life span. I would say the shuttle has a great track record. Every time one has blown up they have traced the error directly to human error. for example. "hey look at that crack in a the O ring" "what that, that is just a hair on the xray, it will be fine, lets go play space invaders while we wait for the shuttle to take off" boom "did you hear that?" "oh that was just the hair on the xray"
@tscsoccer BA2100 will definetly do not fit into Shuttle. It is supposed to have 8 meters diameter, whil Shuttle payload bay only has 4,6 meter diameter. And it is supposed to be heavier than shuttle can take. BA330 can be launched without help of the Shuttle. It is actually more efficient as you do not have to carry 70 000 kg of shuttle itself. You need less propelant.