Under its Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research Program--CRuSR (say it out loud)--NASA's forking over nearly half a million dollars to Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems. It'll help these new commercial companies reach the edge of space with their quirky experimental rockets.
The whole purpose of CRuSR is to demonstrate new rockets that can be "recoverable" vehicles to take test payloads to "near space." This is a scientifically interesting part of the atmosphere between 65,000 and 350,000 feet that can provide a microgravity environment that's close to the conditions in space itself. And it's suborbital, so building a vehicle that can propel itself up to this height, perform an experiment, and then bring everything safely back to the landing pad is much easier--you don't need to build a heat shield for one. The watchwords of CRuSR are "regular" and "predictable" with "reasonable" costs.
The first two recipients are X-Prize entrant Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems. The cash will let Armadillo's large Super-Mod rocket fly up to nine miles in altitude twice in check-out runs, and then one more up to 25 miles. Masten's smaller Xaero will fly up to three miles twice, and two more flights will take it up to 18 miles, including in-flight engine shut-downs.
NASA's trumpeting the awards as "just the beginning of an innovative teaming relationship with industry to provide affordable access to the edge of space" and playing up the PR-friendly low cost aspects of the program, and the government-commercial angle that's so very in vogue in space circles at the moment. And while that's exciting, if you're into space accounting, there's much better content. Like these two videos of Super-Mod and Xaero hovering on pillars of pure rockety magic:
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