While some might question it, 2014 was a fascinating year in spaceflight for the United States. This was not always a positive story. Here are my top five events of the year listed chronologically. Others may choose to emphasize other stories, but these are my top five.
- The Space Report 2014: The Space Foundation has been preparing this report for some time, but it is appropriate to call attention to some remarkable aspects of the global “space economy,” so much of which is commercial rather the government programs such as those operated by NASA. In 2013 the total space economy was $314.17 billion, an increase of 4 percent over the previous year. There is every reason to believe it will continue to grow in the future. The $314.17 billion is divided into the following segments: commercial infrastructure and support industries, 37% ($117.49 billion); commercial space products and services, 39% ($122.58 billion); U.S. government space budgets, 13% ($41.26 billion); and non-U.S. government space budgets, 11% ($32.84 billion). Accordingly, only 24% of the total amount is government funded activities. Perhaps as historians we should focus more attention on the private sector activities of spaceflight.
- Cygnus CRS Orb-1 Operational Resupply Mission to International Space Station: On January 9, 2014, Orbital Sciences Corp. launched the first operational resupply mission to the International Space Station using the Antares rocket/Cygnus capsule configuration. This was the first operational launch for Orbital Sciences supported by NASA under its Commercial Resupply Services contract, a critical development in the post-Space Shuttle era.
- Cygnus CRS Orb-3 Launch Failure: On October 28, 2014, a launch failure of the Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares/Cygnus at the time of launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility would have been the third of eight flights by Orbital Sciences under the Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA.
- Crash of SpaceShipTwo: On October 31, 2014, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo experimental test vehicle, suffered a catastrophic in-flight breakup and crashed in the Mojave Desert, California, while undertaking a test flight for Virgin Galactic Corp. The co-pilot, Michael Alsbury, was killed and the pilot, Peter Siebold, was seriously injured. This was a program to establish a sub-orbital space tourism industry.
- Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) test flight: This is the first test flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. It launched on December 5, 2014, atop a Delta IV Heavy, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The orbital mission successfully tested the systems necessary to sustain astronauts in space, as well as the control and reentry systems.