The National Aeronautics and Space Administration charges $20 million to $30 million to launch a satellite these days, but those prices will probably rise to $25 million to $35 million or more in 1986. In any case, NASA's space shuttle is booked up through 1987. This means that competitors today don't even have to beat NASA's price if they can provide the service at all.
Arianespace, the commercial arm of the European Space Agency, is going head-to-head with NASA on launching top-of-the-line communications satellites and other high-priced hardware. A loft into orbit on Ariane, which was successfully test-launched last year, will cost clients from $25 million to $30 million. Already Arianespace has booked for a 1984 launch some American clients who were unable to buy space on the shuttle.
Space Transportation Co. wants to go into business with NASA. STC proposes to give the government $1 billion to pay for a fifth space shuttle. The company wants in return marketing rights on all commercial and foreign shuttle bookings. STC will collect from clients, pay NASA its fee, and pocket the difference. The government, so far, hasn't decided what to make of STC's offer.
Truax Engineering Inc. is Bob Truax and some volunteers working on Project Private Enterprise in Truax's five-car garage in Saratoga, Calif. Truax wants to bring down NASA's cost of space travel by a factor of 5 to 10. Parachutes, he says, are cheaper and lighter than the shuttle's wings. So his reusable rocket will float, not fly, during reentry and will touch down in water, not on land. At 10? per pound, liquid propellants are much cheaper, says Truax, than NASA's expensive solid fuels. Truax has ground-tested a demo rocket but has put nothing in the air yet. The former naval officer has entered the commercial rocket field, he says, "to go get rich and famous."
Space Services Inc. of America, the successor to SSI, says it will be launching 8 to 10 small "earth sensing" satellites per year at $5 million to $10 million a pop beginning as early as 1984. "We hope they'll be like Learjets," says chairman David Hannah, Jr."As soon as one oil company gets one, all the others will want one, too." Hannah believes the commercial space market resembles the early computer market. "Once we start flying," he says, "a lot of people will say, 'Oh, I see what you mean now,' and there's going to be a lot of competition."
Phoenix Engineering Inc. consists of all the engineers involved in the Percheron Project business and plans. It continues to search for investors. The objective remains to build a cheap liquid-fueled rocket that will undercut NASA's subsidized, but still expensive, shuttle.
GCH Inc., as president Gary Hudson says, is actively doing nothing following the Percheron explosion last year. "You'll probably hear from us in 1983," he says.