NASA is meeting developers of suborbital vehicles to define a Centennial Challenge to encourage their evolution by offering prizes. The agency has already announced challenges for space elevator and personal air vehicle technology development.

Deputy associate administrator for exploration operations Michael Foale visited Oklahoma-based Rocketplane last month to discuss what winning a suborbital vehicle prize might require, such as demonstrations of altitude, payload, cost and reliability.

Foale, accompanied by NASA’s assistant director for the aircraft and flightcrew operations directorate Kenneth Cockrell, also discussed using Rocketplane’s XP suborbital vehicle for astronaut training, the company says.

“[Dr Foale] was interested in using the XP for astronaut training, procedural training and non-Earth gravity experience. We could provide 3-4min of weightlessness and much more time at Moon and Mars gravities,” says Rocketplane’s chief engineer, Bob Seto.

Foale confirms NASA’s Centennial Challenge interest, but declines to name any of the other suborbital vehicle developers visited. Burt Rutan has said Scaled Composites has been approached by NASA about using the SpaceShipTwo now in development for astronaut training.


Source: Flight International