A private rocket development company has struck a deal that could allow for demonstration launches of its reusable suborbital spacecraft from Florida.
Masten Space Systems, a private aerospace company based in Mojave, Calif., announced a partnership with Space Florida today (Nov. 22) to explore the possibility of demonstration launches from Launch Complex 36 a rocket launching pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
"We have been looking at Florida as a launch option for some time now," Masten Founder and CEO David Masten said in a statement. "We are excited to begin the process of determining if Launch Complex 36 is a good location for our flight operations, and hope to attempt a demonstration launch sometime in 2011."
Space Florida, created by the Space Florida Act, was enacted in 2006 with the goal of fostering the growth and development of a sustainable aerospace industry in the state through research, investment, exploration and commerce.
"We are thrilled to have Masten looking at Florida's Space Coast," said Space Florida President Frank DiBello. "We view companies like Masten as the catalysts for innovation in our state's aerospace economy. There is significant potential for their launch vehicles to provide a valuable platform for commercial research and development, and we look forward to working with them to explore that potential here in Florida."
Masten's reusable, vertical-takeoff-and-landing suborbital rockets are being designed to operate frequently and affordably, with the ability to fly several missions per day with a small crew. These so-called reusable launch vehicles (RLVs) will enable frequent, reliable and low-cost access to the suborbital space environment. [ 10 Private Spaceships Becoming Reality ]
"We've had interest from many researchers, scientists, and engineers," said Colin Ake, Masten's Director of Business Development. "We look forward to conducting regular flight operations in the near future, including using suborbital flights as a quality assurance 'checkout' for experiments bound for the International Space Station."With its rockets designed to launch vertically and land vertically, Masten Space Systems is considered a strong contender in the field of commercial spaceflight. Last year, the company snagged $1 million in NASA prize money by winning a contest to build and fly mock lunar landers.
Masten Space Systems is one of two private rocket developers that received NASA funding to test launch suborbital robot rocketships. This year, the company partnered with XCOR Aerospace to build and launch unmanned landers for missions to the moon, Mars and asteroids.
"As our vehicles near completion, we're searching for the ideal launch location from which to base our flight operations team," said Michael Mealling, Masten's Chief Financial Officer. "While we are preparing for a flight demonstration in Florida, there are enough new space ports around the country that evaluating them will take time. Our ultimate goal is to develop enough market demand to justify flying from multiple space ports."
Meanwhile, both Space Florida and Masten are committed to reducing the cost of rocket launches, and seek to enable greater access to space.
"Everything about our vehicle feeds directly into low-cost operations with minimal infrastructure," Masten said. "We require a small concrete pad and have optimized vehicle operations for a five person team. It's great to find ourselves on the same path and we're looking forward to exploring opportunities in Florida."
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