SpaceX Needs to Thank NASA for Its Privately Funded Space Exploration Ventures


There will always be the Burt Rutan’s of industry, those pioneers who build spaceships and other works of technological wizardry using their own blueprint and have it actually work. In a previous article on PolicyMic I pointed out how NASA research has benefited the private spaceflight industry. Now I will lay out some of the advances made by NASA that are allowing companies such as SpaceX to vie for ascendancy and profit in the private spaceflight market.

1. SpaceX

Many of the designers who created the SpaceX’s Falcon series rockets cut their teeth working NASA programs including the chief designer of the groundbreaking Merlin engine, Tom Mueller. Additionally, the Merlin uses a pintle injector to input fuel and oxidizer into the combustion chamber. This type injector was developed, in part, by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in conjunction with Caltech for the Apollo program.

2. Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser vehicle owes its shape to research NASA conducted in the 1960s on the concept of “lifting bodies,” aircraft whose sole source of lift was their bodies. The Smithsonian’s Air and Space Magazine once compared the flight trajectory of some of the lifting bodies to that of Wile E. Coyote falling off of a cliff. Out of the lifting body program came the HL-20 which has morphed into the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser. 

3. Bigelow Aerospace

Bigelow, the creator of inflatable space stations, owes their entire existence to NASA research. Their website contains a good history of the work that NASA did in the 1960s. This research was licensed to Bigelow who commercialized it in the hopes of creating profitable, manned, commercial space stations.

And let’s not forget the NASA facilities and ranges that are often used to test this new, private hardware.

There are many more examples of NASA-researched technology that has provided the boost that private companies need to get into space. In short, private space and NASA are inseparable. When humanity gets ready to land on Mars or visit another star, the companies that accomplish these feats will have been preceded by NASA.