DALLAS, Texas ? Taking advantage of the theme of the panel he was speaking on, Jim Benson, CEO of the Benson Space Company, officially announced changes to the basic design of his company?s Dream Chaser space tourism vehicle Friday.
Benson made the announcement during the ?Entrepreneurial Space: The Future is Now? panel during the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) being held here from May 25 to 28. ?
Benson Space based the original design for its vehicle on the HL-20, a winged lifting body originally designed in Russia and reverse-engineered by NASA. However, following trade studies, the Benson team determined that Dream Chaser could either provide low-gravity return maneuvers or land at the original launch site, but not both. Determined to stick with the company?s original operational concept, Benson and his team decided to start with a ?clean sheet? design and put off development of the HL-20-based rocket.
With input from Benson?s Chief Pilot, former astronaut Hoot Gibson, the team decided to design ?something that looks like a bullet.? Dream Chaser now resembles an X-15 aircraft with a set of T-38 wings and rows of circular windows ringing the forward fuselage, like Rutan?s SpaceShipTwo. Benson Space still has long-range plans for orbital and lunar travel, which could include the HL-20- based vehicle.
Personal spaceflight has been a lifelong dream for Benson: ?I want to go into space. It?s been 52 years. I?m tired of waiting.? He believes Benson Space can be first to market with their new space tourism vehicle, with operations beginning in 2009. Benson?s current task is fundraising, a process he is close to completing. In response to questions from the ISDC audience, he declined to comment on where he might base operations, saying that the Dream Chaser could operate from any spaceport. He also did not specify if he would operate both as a vehicle manufacturer and space tourism ?experience provider.? It is possible that Benson Space could be a one-stop shop. This would be a different business model from Scaled Composites, which operates more like a traditional airframe maker and leaves flight operations to Virgin Galactic.
George Nield, assistant deputy administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation also spoke on the panel. Nield supported Benson?s assertion that space can be turned into a healthy ?ecosphere? for commerce if more people have access. He reminded the audience that the purpose of his office is to ensure public safety and provided a friendly economic environment, roles FAA currently fulfills for commercial aviation.
Scott Hubbard, former SETI Institute Director and now a visiting scholar at Stanford University, described a student business case study he established to investigate the potential for ?New Space? entrepreneurial activities. He and his students looked five to eight years into the future, investigating entrepreneurial means for increasing space commercialization. The study found that the big aerospace companies would continue to dominate the near future, but personal spaceflight businesses could make money through sideline activities like franchises, merchandising, advertising, logos, and product endorsements.
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Bart Leahy is a technical writer at Schafer Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama.