As its Integrated Cargo Carrier awaited launch on Space Shuttle Discovery, Houston-based Spacehab revealed it will develop a multipurpose spacecraft to deliver equipment and other items into orbit.
Spacehab announced July 12 it will design that spacecraft, Apex, to deliver such items as experiments, payloads and other equipment for a variety of customers, including NASA, the Department of Defense and commercial developers.
In an interview Apex Program Manager Jim Baker said the vehicle primarily will integrate existing technology rather than experiment with new, untested technology.
The modular spacecraft will have the ability to be reconfigured so it can make a one-way trip to space, or withstand re-entry, depending on a client’s needs.
Baker estimated building Apex could take 18 to 24 months, but said the company is not releasing figures on how much it expects the project to cost.
A bigger hurdle for Spacehab could be a regulatory one: To fly Apex, the company must get a re-entry license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a process Baker estimated would take at minimum one year.
“Sometimes the technical aspect of things can be easier than the regulatory aspect of things, but we’re hopeful it won’t take any longer than the 18 to 24 months [needed to build Apex],” Baker said.
The re-entry licensing process includes a pre-application consultation, an extensive safety inspection and an environmental review.
Ken Wong, deputy manager for the commercial space licensing and safety division of the FAA, said the agency has 180 days to make a licensing determination, but said that time period is dependent on the applicant submitting a complete application to the agency including all requirements.
NASA is scheduled to launch the company’s Integrated Cargo Carrier, which serves as a warehouse for spare parts, onboard Space Shuttle Discovery. It is the first commercially-developed and deployable component of the international space station.