First Commercial Launch To Test Materials in Space
Mar. 28, 1989
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. (AP) _ A privately owned rocket ship carrying experiments on weightlessness will blast off on a 15-minute mission Wednesday, the nation's first licensed commercial space flight.
The flight of Consort I, owned by Space Services Inc. of Washington, marks another stage in the private space research efforts that gained in significance after the 1986 Challenger tragedy.
''This launch you can probably trace to the Challenger disaster, because these experiments were hoped to be carried aboard the Challenger or future shuttles,'' said Walter Pennino, an investor and spokesman for Space Services.
The company launched the first privately financed space shot, Conestoga I, with a dummy payload in 1982. Since then, the federal government has begun licensing private launches, and Consort I is the first to get the green light.
Conestoga I proved private industry could launch spacecraft, and also showed that the government was unprepared for the new industry, Pennino said.
''There was no single agency we or anyone else could go to and ask if we could do this,'' Pennino said, adding his firm had to consult with the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Communications Commission and Defense Department, among other agencies.
The Department of Transportation was assigned the task of licensing private launches and coordinating with different agencies. Consort I received its license from the department's new Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
Consort I's 650-pound payload will include experiments that will measure how liquids mix in weightlessness, how plastic foam forms and cures, how liquids coat glass surfaces, how epoxy reacts in weightlessness and how finely powdered metals bond under high temperature to produce alloys without melting.
The experiments have applications in the manufacture of medicines, alloys and ball bearings, and in the construction of future space stations.
The payload was assembled by the University of Alabama-Huntsville's Consortium for Materials Development in Space, one of 16 NASA-sponsored consortiums for the commercial development of space.
Consort I will be boosted into space by a modified Terrier Navy rocket; the second stage is a Black Brant rocket. The entire vehicle stands about 52 feet and weighs 6,000 pounds at liftoff.
The rocket will achieve a top speed of 5,016 mph, and in a little less than five minutes will rise 198 miles above Earth. It will land about 50 miles north of the launch site.
The entire venture should cost about $2 million, including the cost of reimbursing White Sands for the use of its time and personnel, Pennino said.