What do Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and Xcor Aerospace have in common? They are companies—independent of NASA—that can send people or research experiments into weightlessness. It appears they are in growing demand as Ashlee Vance reports (“It’s Faster to Grow a Kidney Up Here Than Down There” Bloomberg Businessweek, 12/2/13–12/8/13, pp. 39–40):
“Regularly scheduled flights for customers doing research and development would be a major leap beyond what government programs had offered the private sector in the past, says Sean Casey, the managing director of the Silicon Valley Space Center, which advises space startups. ‘Researchers have been turned off by NASA’s traditional time scale,’ he says. ‘With Xcor, you can spend $1 million to $2 million and do 10 flights each with about six minutes of microgravity and make sure your experiments are working.’ Blue Origins business development manager Erika Wagner said during the recent space conference that the company’s goal is spaceflight at a moment’s notice. ‘We will roll out of the garage,’ she said. ‘This is gas and go.’” (p. 40)
True, in ideal circumstances these researchers would prefer to do their research in the International Space Station. All these companies and others like them are attractive to researchers because of their speed, convenience, and flexibility. For researchers, of course results are important, but so is the ease with which you obtain those results.
Once again, private enterprise delivers what the customer wants faster and better than a government program. Imagine that.