NASA Gives Small Suborbital Rocket Company a Big Opportunity

When NASA announced the selection of seven companies to integrate and fly technology payloads on suborbital vehicles, the list included most of the usual suspects such as Virgin Galactic, XCOR and Armadillo.

It also included a couple of lesser known companies, including Whittinghill Aerospace. The Camarillo, Calif.-based company has a website with a single page featuring nothing but its logo. However, it has a good pedigree.

The company is owned by George Whittinghill, an MIT graduate who was formerly chief technologist for Virgin Galactic, CTO at Space Launch Corporation, and a flight crew instructor at NASA.

Whittinghill has been developing a four-stage nanosat launch vehicle that is composed of a cluster of identical N2O-fed hybrid rocket propulsion modules. The company has received funding through NASA’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program. According to a briefing chart done for the program:

“NASA applications include dedicated small satellite and sounding rocket launch operations, low-cost strap-on boosters for existing vehicles, upper stage kick motors, and air-launched accelerator stages for air breathing applications. Non-NASA applications include commercial satellite and sounding rocket launch operations, university and student launch operations, high-performance storable tactical vehicles for defense department use, and target vehicles for intercept exercises.”

Whittinghill’s selection was part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, which is designed to fly vehicles on reusable suborbital vehicles. The two-year contracts, worth a combined total of $10 million, allow NASA to draw upon the seven providers for payload integration and flight services.

“Through this catalog approach, NASA is moving toward the goal of making frequent, low-cost access to near-space available to a wide range of engineers, scientists and technologists,” said NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The government’s ability to open the suborbital research frontier to a broad community of innovators will enable maturation of the new technologies and capabilities needed for NASA’s future missions in space.