Getting things to pan
out may be less dependent on overcoming the technical challenges, which t/Space seems to have well in hand, than on a far more capricious endeavor: winning continued support from NASA. But the company's prospects brightened considerably this summer, when, without fanfare or formal announcement, NASA created a set of programs within Exploration Systems called Innovative Procurements. Program executive Brant Sponberg explains that the direction has come directly from NASA chief Michael Griffin to "try to bring new actors into what we do," to open NASA's manned space program to entrepreneurs, who will be paid fixed fees for building working hardware. Whereas companies like t/Space were once pursuing contracts to design and build NASA-owned-and-
operated vehicles, they now have the option of being the owners and operators themselves. "The idea," Sponberg says, "is we can enter into a contract where we pay for milestones, so someone has to do such-and-such demonstration or such-and-such test. They have to do it on their own nickel, but if they're successful, then we'll pay for the milestone. Ultimately, the last milestone is getting to orbit or doing the final demonstration."