RELEASE: C97-e

NASA SELECTS FOUR COMPANIES TO DEMONSTRATE LOW COST LAUNCH SYSTEM TECHNOLOGIES

June 9, 1997

NASA took another step today toward making space launch more affordable in the future with the selection of four proposals for negotiation leading to contract awards for the initial design of a flight demonstrator of new low-cost launch system technologies.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, has selected Universal Space Lines, Inc. of Newport Beach, CA; Summa Technology, Inc. of Huntsville; Aerojet-General Corp., Sacramento, CA; and Pioneer Rocketplane, Bladewood, CO, for negotiation. Anticipated total funding for the awards in fiscal year 1997 is $8 million. The contracts are expected to be awarded later this month.

During the next six months the selected companies will analyze the small payload market and develop low-cost launch system concepts and business plans for commercial operation of the systems.

The new launch system will focus on small experimental payloads that typically are not funded due to the expense of launch. This system could increase greatly the amount of research performed in space. Small payloads such as communications satellites and other commercial ventures in space also will benefit from inexpensive access to space.

The Bantam project will adapt common manufacturing techniques and existing commercial, off-the-shelf hardware to aerospace applications to develop new technologies and a resulting test vehicle. The goal is to develop a launch vehicle capable of placing a payload weighing approximately 400 pounds in orbit for $1.5 million. Today, that same 400-pound payload costs about $8 million -- or nearly $20,000 per pound -- to launch with current vehicles.

"Low cost is a primary objective of the Bantam system," said Garry Lyles, manager of NASA's Advanced Space Transportation Program at Marshall. "This project is identifying and developing low-cost component technologies that can reduce costs and make space transportation affordable. Now we are looking for ideas for actual launch systems that would incorporate these technologies."

The Bantam System Technology Project is one element of the Advanced Space Transportation Program -- a NASA initiative to reduce the cost of space launch and develop technologies for space transportation needs for the next 25 years. Marshall serves as NASA's Lead Center for Space Transportation Systems Development.

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