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A New American Space Age

NASA Tech Briefs: What types of technologies will NASA and industry need to develop or adapt for this new program of manned space transportation?

McAlister: Each one of our partners has a very unique concept. Sierra Nevada has a lifting body that looks like a mini shuttle, and they want to implement a very innovative green propellant propulsion system that we think has potential. That’s a technology area that probably needs a little bit of development.

SpaceX and Boeing have their own areas in which they’re working, but I don’t really see it as technology enhancement. It’s really just good engineering. We know how to do liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen engines, and we know how to do kerosene propulsion systems. Each one of the companies is adapting their own systems. I don’t really characterize this as a technology program — it’s really just spacecraft and launch vehicle development.

We believe at NASA that we have a good integrated strategy for exploration. We believe our concepts for beyond low-Earth orbit — that feature the Space Launch System and the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle — are great programs. The way we’re doing those programs is the right approach for that mission. For low-Earth orbit, we’re shifting some of the responsibility to industry, and that frees NASA up to do the really hard thing, which is to go beyond low-Earth orbit.

So we really do not see this as a competition between low-Earth orbit and beyond low-Earth orbit. We believe it’s synergistic and complementary to our space strategy. We’re shifting responsibility for low-Earth orbit more towards private industry, and NASA is retaining the very difficult missions.

Watch NASA’s latest Commercial Crew video on Tech Briefs TV at www.techbriefs.com/tv/commercialspace. For more information on NASA’s commercial spaceflight program, visit www.nasa.gov/commercial.