Space Services Inc.

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Space Services, Inc. of America is a space services company that provides star naming services as well as space burial services through its subsidiary company, Celestis. [1] Though today it buys secondary payload space on third-party commercial rockets such as Falcon 1, Taurus, and Spaceloft XL, in the 1980s the company conducted test flights of several in-house rockets.

In 1982, their Conestoga 1 rocket became the first privately funded rocket to reach space. Their last launch attempt, a Conestoga 1620 rocket, was launched in 1995, but broke up 46 seconds into its flight. The parent company, EER, subsequently folded and the Conestoga program was cancelled. [2]


The company initially started in the launch systems with a design by Gary Hudson, the Percheron, which was intended to dramatically lower the price of space launches. Key to the design was a simple pressure-fed kerosene-oxidizer engine that was intended to reduce the costs associated with "throwing away" the booster. Various loads could be accommodated by clustering the basic modules together. SSIA conducted an engine test firing of the Percheron from Matagorda Island on August 5, 1981, but the rocket exploded on the pad due to a malfunction.[3] SSIA then parted ways with Hudson.[4]


Conestoga I prepared for launch.

SSIA founder David Hannah then hired Deke Slayton, one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts. Slayton had just left NASA after running (among earlier roles) the Space Shuttle Approach and Landing validation testing. They came up with an entire new design based on clustering engines from the second stage of the Minuteman missile. The first launch of the new Conestoga I design took place on 9 Sep 1982, consisting of the core missile stage and a 500kg dummy payload which included 40 gallons of water. The payload was successfully ejected at 313km, and the Conestoga I became the first privately funded rocket to reach space.[5]

SSIA was purchased by EER Systems in December 1990. The design was modified again, this time using the Castor engines originally used on the Scout, a workhorse of the 1960s. The new design was known as the Conestoga 1620, or by other numbers depending on the number and arrangement of the boosters.

The first orbital launch of Conestoga 1620 was to carry a NASA payload, the first flight of the Commercial Experiment Transporter (COMET) payload concept. On 23 October 1995 the COMET (now known as METEOR) and Conestoga 1620 was finally ready for launch. The launch took place from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility; the rocket launched normally, but broke up in-flight 46 seconds later.

It was purchased by L-3 Communications in 2001 for $110 million.

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  1. ^
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-10-15. Retrieved 2007-01-15.
  3. ^ Woods, Michael (Sep 23, 1981). "Rocket Failure Brings Favorable Fame: Private Effort Ended In Launch Explosion". Toledo Blade. Toldeo, OH. p. 1.
  4. ^ Richman, Tom (Jul 1, 1982). "The Wrong Stuff". Inc.
  5. ^ Abell, John C. (September 9, 2009). "Sept. 9, 1982: 3-2-1 … Liftoff! The First Private Rocket Launch". Wired.