News Article

New player Masten eyes Space Coast for launches, research
Author: Paul Brinkmann and Marco Santana
Source: Orlando Sentinel ( click here to go to the source)

Featured firm in this article: Masten Space Systems Inc of Mojave, CA

A scrappy but successful startup in the space industry, Masten Space Systems, is making new moves toward opening an office at Cape Canaveral.

Masten recently hired former NASA engineer Jason Hopkins as a business-development scout at Kennedy Space Center.

"I'm basically paving the way to get us set up here and have an office here," Hopkins said. "Masten is a very small, efficient company, with about 30 people total at the Mojave (Calif.) Air and Space Port. We are considering another office here with the same capabilities."

Masten's interest gives more hope for adding another player to Florida's growing private space cluster. Elon Musk's SpaceX has been launching regularly here for years. Last September, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin announced a new manufacturing and launch operation at Cape Canaveral, among others.

Known for winning multimillion-dollar contracts from the Department of Defense, Masten is a finalist to help develop a new, reusable space plane. Its competitors in that contest are Boeing and Northrop Grumman.

Masten also won a $1 million Xprize in 2009 for building a lander vehicle capable of making a simulated landing and liftoff on the moon. The company was founded in 2004 by rocket entrepreneur David Masten and a few others, with the goal of easing access to space.

The company investigated a partnership with Space Florida in 2010 to demonstrate a suborbital reusable launch vehicle, but those plans were not finalized. Masten has been researching and testing its launch vehicles at the Mojave facility and has a relationship with University of Colorado Boulder there.

Masten is also exploring a research relationship with Florida Space Institute at University of Central Florida.

Philip Metzger, a planetary physicist at the institute, said he has been working with Masten since his time as a senior research physicist at Kennedy Space Center. Metzger said Masten has already developed a reusable launch vehicle at a time when higher-profile companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin make headlines for their launches and landings.

"It's exciting to watch companies like this develop," he said. "It's amazing to watch a small group of people build rockets and fly high up into the upper atmosphere."

Masten does a lot of research for universities.

"We want to provide schools on [the] East Coast with the same things we do out west," Hopkins said. "We are working with UCF to determine what services they need, for research and training. For example, testing a new camera system. We would give them a high-altitude hover or something -- maybe a simulated lunar landscape."

Hopkins drew a stark difference between Masten and other space companies.

"We have to be deliberate in what we're doing because we don't have a multi-billionaire behind us," Hopkins said. Popular Mechanics called Masten "the rocket man who wants to beat the billionaires" in an October article.

"Masten would continue with or without [a] space-plane contract," Hopkins said. "Masten could be a backup too."

At this point, NASA is not looking for a backup contractor on the program. Northrop and Boeing may not want a backup slot.

The final space-plane contract for the federal program could be $140 million at least. Hopkins said, however, he is not sure where the space-plane development work would continue if Masten advances.

"They want a space plane to launch 10 times in 10 days, send a 3,000-pound payload to lower-earth orbit and be able to reach Mach 10," Hopkins said.

He said Masten's pilot plane is unique in that it is developing vertical launch and vertical landing. or 407-420-5660