Feeds

A year in spaaaaace: El Reg looks back on 2011

Era of the spaceplane ends, robot exploration continues

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Upstart start-ups get a look-in

But despite all the bad that went with the closure of the programme, there was also some potential good - possible successors to the shuttle.

At first the field seemed to be opening up to commercial companies that might be able to provide rockets at significantly lower costs, such as Elon Musk's SpaceX firm. But NASA was having a hard time letting go of the expensive and lavishly-staffed way it has always done things and announced it was planning a new kind of rocket based on recycled shuttle (and Apollo) technology, the Space Launch System.

NASA wasn't completely blind to the benefits of commercial space travel, however, setting up and distributing Commercial Crew Development funding for possible manned flights to Amazon-ian Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture, Paypal alumni Elon Musk's SpaceX and the Sierra Nevada Corporation.

Out of that lot the prize goes to SpaceX, which will have the first mission to the International Space Station by a privately built and operated spacecraft early next year, NASA announced. The Dragon capsule, sitting on a Falcon 9 rocket, will (hopefully) deliver supplies to the ISS.

The Dragon capsule with 'Draco' rockets in action. Credit: SpaceX

The Dragon capsule with 'Draco' rockets in action. Credit: SpaceX

Nonetheless NASA isn't quite ready to let go of the old days, sending some of the commercial crew funds the way of United Launch Alliance - basically the entire existing US rocket business amalgamated into a huge monopoly. ULA is a joint venture of guess who? Yes, Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

ULA's offering for commercial manned flights is the trusty Atlas V rocket, which is to be man-rated to send astronauts into low-Earth orbit.

Plenty of Atlas Vs have already flown with unmanned missions - for instance carrying Juno, NASA's Jupiter probe, into space.

Artist's impression of Juno at Jupiter. Pic: NASA

Artist's impression of Juno at Jupiter. Credit: NASA

Juno, which will be busily unlocking the secrets of the early solar system when it eventually makes it to Jupiter in 2016, launched in August.

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.