Alan Stern just wrapped up things here at NSRC in Palo Alto with an observation that was at once both simple and profound. He said, and I paraphrase:
We’re moving from an era of limited access to space using very expensive vehicles (Atlas V, space shuttle) to almost unlimited access with much more affordable systems. Multple companies will be providing regular access to space using different technological approaches that will give the system true redundancy. And the only real limitation is the number of payloads people want to fly.
He challenged attendees to use their imaginations and enthusiasm to create that demand in time for the next NSRC, which will be held in Colorado in June 2013.
I think this is is precisely right. The variety of options that are already available, or are about to come online — from balloons and sounding rockets to high-end spacecraft — is breathtaking. If the demand is there, it will lead to a golden age of microgravity research and technology development.
Yet, if the supply of payloads comes up short, it may not be sufficient to fully support a robust commercial industry that is now only just beginning to emerge. The technology is almost here; now to develop the market. And it will be fascinating to see how that develops.
Oh, Taber McCallum of Paragon Space Development Corporation just dropped by my table and called this the “conference of the year!” Coming from Taber, that is indeed high praise. He’s been a real pioneer of commercial space.
Signing off from NSRC. Catch you all later!