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.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Nate Abrams

I'm a systems guy, which means that I look at almost everything in terms of interconnections, feedback loops, architecture and scale. In other words, I look for the big picture and the deeply buried reasons for why things are the way they are.

MORE FROM

Employees are getting microchips put in their hands at this US company

They cost $300 a piece, but this U.S. company is about to foot the bill for any employee who signs up.

NASA’s working on quieter supersonic flight, which it wants to help commercialize

What if you could spend less time on a plane to get where you're going?

3 reasons why you shouldn’t have fallen for Elon Musk’s hyperloop plans

Musk claims the hyperloop will take us from New York to D.C. in under 30 minutes, but where's the proof?

Why it’s crucial for Californians to turn off their lights during the upcoming solar eclipse

Officials are hoping residents can offset major energy losses by keeping the lights off.

You can help NASA with your solar eclipse observations on Aug. 21

You'll be an eclipse scientist.

Scientists are pretty sure that deep inside the moon, there’s water

The explosive story of water on the moon.

Employees are getting microchips put in their hands at this US company

They cost $300 a piece, but this U.S. company is about to foot the bill for any employee who signs up.

NASA’s working on quieter supersonic flight, which it wants to help commercialize

What if you could spend less time on a plane to get where you're going?

3 reasons why you shouldn’t have fallen for Elon Musk’s hyperloop plans

Musk claims the hyperloop will take us from New York to D.C. in under 30 minutes, but where's the proof?

Why it’s crucial for Californians to turn off their lights during the upcoming solar eclipse

Officials are hoping residents can offset major energy losses by keeping the lights off.

You can help NASA with your solar eclipse observations on Aug. 21

You'll be an eclipse scientist.

Scientists are pretty sure that deep inside the moon, there’s water

The explosive story of water on the moon.