Apr 10, 2013 8:53 PM by Andy Koen
COLORADO SPRINGS - When America returns to using its own rockets to send astronauts into space, there is a good chance those vehicles will be designed and even built here in Colorado.
The retiring of the Space Shuttle Program alone has sparked a boom in commercial space innovation by requiring private companies to compete for NASA contracts to carry astronaut to the International Space Station via the Commercial Crew Program.
"There's a whole revolution going on now," explained Tom Clark, president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation a member of the Colorado Space Coalition.
He says Colorado is well poised to be part of the commercial space revolution. For example, one of three leading designs to replace the shuttle for Commercial Crew Program is the Dream Chaser
by the Louisville-based Sierra Nevada Corporation.
The next generation space plane is smaller and sleeker than the shuttle, can carry up to 7 people, uses airport runways for landing and can be reused.
"The space shuttle is very much like a moving van," explained Mark Sirangelo, president of the company's space systems. "If you were going across the country you'd need something very big to take everything you need and that's what it was to build the space station. Now where we are is we need to get people and all the critical cargo back and forth."
The spacecraft would be launched into orbit atop a rocket built by another Colorado company, United Launch Alliance (ULA) which operates out of Denver.
George Sowers, ULA vice president of Business Development says taking American Astronauts back into space is a matter of pride.
"Until we get one of these systems up and running we have to rely on the Russians to take our own Astronauts up to our own International Space Station."
Both executives credit our state's highly educated workforce and purple mountains majesty as reasons for calling Colorado home.
"It's been a great place to attract people, not only young people but really strong professionals because of the Air Force academy because of the space development in this state," Sirangleo said.
"From my own personal opinion, it's the quality of life. I love the mountains and it's pretty easy to want to live here," added Sowers.
Boeing and Space X are other top competitors in the commercial space race.
Boeing's CST-100 Crew Space Transportation capsule would also be launched by ULA rockets.
Space X launched its Dragon spacecraft and last month reached the space station.
NASA is expected to pick the company they will use next year with an expected first launch date for astronauts sometime in 2016.