Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Is SpaceX's Rival Developing Space Trucks?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Is SpaceX's Rival Developing Space Trucks?

Article excerpt

Ever since NASA began contracting with commercial companies to get cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX has been the face of commercial space shipping, despite several prominent competitors. Now, the company may have a serious rival.

Tony Bruno, chief executive officer of the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a partnership between aerospace engineering companies Lockheed Martin and Boeing, discussed the company's plans to create a cargo carrier that he nicknamed the "space truck" with news outlet Quartz this week.

Does this signal a shift towards greater specialization in the space engineering market?

SpaceX is not the only company sending shipments of food, experiments, and other supplies to the international space station, but it is the best known - and offers a significantly lower cost. The company's successful quest to create a reusable rocket has prompted rivals to aggressively seek ways to lower their costs.

The United Launch Alliance is one of those rivals. The company's launch contract with NASA is due to expire in 2019, meaning that ULA needs to innovate to remain relevant.

Mr. Bruno's vision for ULA's future is expansive, and includes plans for space infrastructure that can support lunar colonization by 2020. To that end, the company's current project aims to make it cheaper and easier to get into space.

Like SpaceX, ULA hopes to achieve its aims by developing a reusable rocket. According to Bruno, unlike rival SpaceX, ULA's rocket will have a reusable second stage (the portion of the rocket that finishes the journey) as well as a reusable first stage (the stage that propels the rocket from Earth into orbit).

And unlike SpaceX, which has developed the technology to bring reusable rockets back to Earth, ULA plans to leave the reusable second stages in space.

"We realized that you don't have to bring it back in order for it to be reusable," Bruno told Quartz "That's the big paradigm change in the way that you look at the problem - if you have an upper stage that stays on orbit and is reusable."

ULA's second stage design looks like a fuel tank, and can be refueled and reloaded while still in orbit, where it would wait for cargo loads sent up from Earth. …

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