The U.S.' s new national space policy views the use of commercial space companies as a vital component, a NASA Ames Research Center official said Tuesday in a speech at the Wichita Aero Club meeting.
"Why are we pursuing commercial space?" said Alan Weston, the NASA official. "In a single word, it's cost."
The government isn't as motivated as the commercial sector to be cost-effective, he said.
Commercial space businesses could cut the high costs associated with space dramatically, Weston said.
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Companies in the commercial space sector could handle low-earth orbital missions, such as sending commercial vehicles to resupply the International Space Station, said Sen. Sam Brownback.
Right now, the U.S. pays Russia to do it, Brownback said.
"I'd rather have us paying us to go to the Space Station," he said.
NASA's efforts can focus on what Weston calls "Deep Space," such as asteroids, the moon, Mars and beyond.
Weston and Brownback were the keynote speakers at the Aero Club's luncheon at the Hilton Wichita Airport.
Wichita could have a role in the commercial space sector, Brownback said.
Local aviation suppliers could build vehicles or parts of them, he said.
The vehicles are made from lightweight composites and must be durable.
"You've got the best composite businesses right here," Brownback said.
There are opportunities in commercial space, Weston agreed.
A commercial company called Galactic Suite is developing the first space hotel as a place for tourism and education, he said.
With all the space junk, there would be big business for the first "space garbage truck company," that could gather it up, he said.
Google has launched a Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million competition to the first private company to safely land a robot on the moon and send images and data back to earth, Weston said.
NASA's Ames Research Center, based in Moffett Field, Calif., is one of 10 NASA field centers.
The center acts as a gateway to help the commercial space industry develop, Weston said.
It is seeking partnerships that promote the development of a robust industry that supports NASA's exploration, science and aeronautics missions.
It's also involved in a variety of projects, such as research in astrobiology, robotic lunar exploration, technologies for new spaceship, thermal protection systems and information technology.
The center is conducting a search for planets that could be habitable, Weston said.
It has the world's largest wind tunnel.
"We also have the world's fastest supercomputer — sometimes," he said. "It's one of those titles that comes and goes rather quickly."