DALLAS, Texas ? Taking advantage of the theme of the panel he was speakingon, Jim Benson, CEO of the Benson Space Company, officially announced changes tothe basic design of his company?s DreamChaser space tourism vehicle Friday.
Benson madethe announcement during the ?Entrepreneurial Space: The Future is Now? panelduring the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) being held herefrom May 25 to 28. ?
BensonSpace based the original design for its vehicle on the HL-20, a winged liftingbody originally designed in Russia and reverse-engineeredby NASA. However, following trade studies, the Benson team determined thatDream Chaser could either provide low-gravity return maneuvers or land at theoriginal launch site, but not both. Determined to stick with the company?soriginal 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 inputfrom Benson?s Chief Pilot, former astronaut Hoot Gibson, the team decided todesign ?something that looks like a bullet.? Dream Chaser now resembles an X-15aircraft with a set of T-38 wings and rows of circular windows ringing theforward fuselage, like Rutan?s SpaceShipTwo. Benson Space still has long-rangeplans for orbital and lunar travel, which could include the HL-20- basedvehicle.
Personalspaceflight 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 befirst to market with their new space tourism vehicle, with operations beginningin 2009. Benson?s current task is fundraising, a process he is close tocompleting. In response to questions from the ISDC audience, he declined tocomment on where he might base operations, saying that the Dream Chaser couldoperate from any spaceport. He also did not specify if he would operate both asa vehicle manufacturer and space tourism ?experience provider.? It is possiblethat Benson Space could be a one-stop shop. This would be a different business modelfrom Scaled Composites, which operates more like a traditional airframe makerand leaves flight operations to Virgin Galactic.
George Nield,assistant deputy administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Officeof Commercial Space Transportation also spoke on the panel. Nield supported Benson?sassertion that space can be turned into a healthy ?ecosphere? for commerce ifmore people have access. He reminded the audience that the purpose of his officeis to ensure public safety and provided a friendly economic environment, rolesFAA currently fulfills for commercial aviation.
ScottHubbard, former SETI Institute Director and now a visiting scholar at StanfordUniversity, described a student business case study he established toinvestigate the potential for ?New Space? entrepreneurial activities. He andhis students looked five to eight years into the future, investigatingentrepreneurial means for increasing space commercialization. The study foundthat the big aerospace companies would continue to dominate the near future,but personal spaceflight businesses could make money through sidelineactivities like franchises, merchandising, advertising, logos, and productendorsements.
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Bart Leahy is atechnical writer at Schafer Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama.