One of the exciting new NASA programs supported by the President’s budget is the Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program. CRuSR will help foster the development of commercial reusable transportation to “near space,” a step along the path to providing the Nation with much lower-cost and more reliable access to orbital space. The overall goal of CRuSR is regular, frequent, and predictable access to the edge of space at a reasonable cost with easy recovery of intact payloads.
Thanks in large part to the $10 million Ansari X Prize, a new generation of commercial suborbital spacecraft has been under development by entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, John Carmack, David Masten, and Jeff Greason. CRuSR—one of several innovative priorities for NASA’s new Chief Technology Officer, Bobby Braun—is building on that momentum. Starting next year, NASA will invest $15 million per year to support a wide range of technology demonstrations, educational experiments, and science payloads on these new vehicles.
This program will leverage significant investment by the private sector to provide quick, routine access to the edge of space. NASA will work with this new industry to develop flight data standards and payload procedures that maximize the amount of data retrieved from each flight.
It will also give undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity of a lifetime. They’ll help design and build new hardware, work side-by-side with rocket scientists to integrate the experiments into the vehicles, and analyze the data once each experiment has been completed. There may even be opportunities for middle and high school students, who could travel to the nearest spaceport to see their science experiment blast off into space.
With its mix of technology development, public-private investment, and educational potential the program a tribute to CTO Braun’s creativity and a perfect example of President Obama’s charge to NASA—to “inspire wonder in a new generation, sparking passions and launching careers.”
Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy