Public-Private Partnerships in Space sees the return of the First Commercial Space Cargo Flight

The newest competitive marketplace is out of this world, literally. Space is the newest investment frontier for companies following the retirement of NASA’s spaceshuttle fleet. Space exploration now relies on a private-public partnership between the Space Administration and companies such as California’s Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp.

The most recent partnership is the SpaceX Dragon capsule which returned from its “historic mission” to the International Space Station on Sunday October 28th. Its return is marked as “mission accomplished” for all parties as Dragon successfully became the first commercial cargo flight in space. The capsule, unmanned for the duration of its trip, is also the first robotic spacecraft ever to return cargo to Earth.

Launched on October 7th by SpaceX in California, the capsule carried 882 pounds of supplies including scientific equipment, crew supplies such as clothes and fresh apples, and hardware to the station. Dragon returned safely with cargo and test samples from the astronauts manning the space station, landing in the ocean off of the Southern California coast. The success of this mission bodes well for the 11 commercial flights scheduled to resupply the station, the next of which departs in January. These flights comprise a $1.6 billion contract between SpaceX and NASA.

The future is full of continued business relations between NASA and American companies. Alongside Space X, Orbital Sciences Corp is under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to launch 8 rocket and spacecraft missions with the first launching before the new year. Additionally, a current NASA contract to launch manned orbital flights is considering bids from companies Sierra Nevada and Boeing. These partnerships have led to meaningful experimentation and the products of multilateral research reflect “American ingenuity” states SpaceX. Certainly, space exploration has entered a new age and with the success of Dragon, the future appears bright for NASA and their private partners.

Posted by: Sophia Higgins

Sources: SpaceX,, CNN, Voxxi

Photo Credit: Dragon Splashes Down @ photostream courtesy of Flickr user NASA Goddard Photo and Video


You Are Invited: Leading the Second Century of Flight

You are invited to:


Leading the Second Century of Flight


Jim Albaugh

Executive Vice President, The Boeing Company

 With an introduction by

The Honorable Jane Harman

Director, President and CEO

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


Since the Wright brothers’ first flight, America’s leadership in aerospace has helped build our economy and ensured our security. Today our leadership is threatened by budget constraints at home and heavy investment by other nations abroad. In this National Aerospace Week address, Jim Albaugh will highlight what’s at stake and what steps the U.S. must take to lead the second century of flight.

Jim Albaugh is an executive vice president of The Boeing Company. A 37-year Boeing veteran, Albaugh has led the company’s commercial, defense, space and security businesses.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

10:00 to 11:00 a.m.

Woodrow Wilson Center

6th Floor, Joseph H. and Claire Flom Auditorium

RSVP here or to receive further information, send an email to Please provide your name and professional affiliation.

Please allow time on arrival at the building for routine security procedures. A photo ID is required.

Directions at

Individuals attending Woodrow Wilson Center events may be audiotaped, videotaped, or photographed during the course of a meeting, and by attending grant permission for their likenesses and the content of their comments, if any, to be broadcast, webcast, published, or otherwise reported or recorded.

NASA and Spinoff Technologies

When many people think about NASA, the first things that come to mind are most likely extraterrestrial missions, zero-gravity environments, and satellite images of our solar system’s planets.  Not as immediately apparent are ear thermometers, edible toothpaste, and improved athletic shoes.  These innovations are, however, inextricably linked to NASA as well.

The agency is responsible for the creation of each of those technologies and thousands of other “spinoffs”, defined by NASA as “commercially available products, services, or processes that take NASA-related technology and bring it to a broader audience.”  Such spinoffs can be found in a variety of locations, including the hospital (i.e. improved artificial limbs), the highway (i.e. safety grooving of concrete), and the household (i.e. memory foam mattresses).

As NASA continues its work in research and development, the list of its spinoffs continues to grow.  The 2010 edition of the NASA publication entitled “Spinoff” lists recent NASA spinoff technologies, including inflatable antennas, the Hilbert-Huang Transform (a signal processing technology), and nanoceramic materials that are being integrated into hairstyling tools.  Spinoffs are important to the manufacturing sector as well, especially spinoffs pertaining to robot technology.

However, it should be noted that the relationship between some new consumer technologies and NASA investments are harder to quantify.  The line from one product to another is often indirect.

Roger Launius, space history curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., described the impact that NASA’s need for smaller, lighter electronics has had in the decreased size of technologies, noting that “miniaturization was an attractive area that NASA pushed very hard to make sure it could have more capability per square inch and pound flown into space.”

Posted by: Erica Pincus

Sources:  Innovation News Daily, MSNBC, NASA, NASA“Spinoff”

Photo Credit:  Helmet View from Astronaut Mike Fossum courtesy of flickr user NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Space Flight, Innovation, and American Competitiveness

The space shuttle Discovery recently returned from its 39th and final mission, leaving America’s space program in a state of transition.  Only two more missions remain for the shuttle fleet, and it is unclear what will replace the shuttle as the means of sending humans into space.  The goal is that the end of this program can give way to another in which deep space exploration is the within reach.  The hope is that retiring the expensive shuttle fleet will free up federal money for developing new launch systems that can penetrate into deep space or smaller spacecraft capable of quickly ferrying people and provisions to and from the international space station.  Congress, however, has been hesitant to commit funding for the next phase of human space flight as it seeks ways to cut spending with the specter of increasingly large deficits looming ever-present.

The situation looms larger as it relates to overall American competitiveness and employmentThe US holds a comparative advantage in the highly skilled space industry, which may become a key global industry over the next century, according to former Rep. James Bacchus (D).  In effect, maintaining a robust space program is not just about saving ordinary American jobs, but those that utilize skills and knowledge that will be critical for American innovation in the 21st century.  Rep. Sandy Adams (R) recently stated that “human space exploration has contributed greatly to our nation’s economy, national security, and has fueled American ideas for innovation and technology.  NASA’s human space flight program has been an American flagship and a symbol of strength for our country and has inspired children to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

Posted by: Jason Schall

Sources:,,, the space review,

Photo credit: Space shuttle liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center: Merritt Island,  Florida courtesy of flickr user State Library and Archives of Florida