MSNBC - George Nield, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, thinks it's possible to double the number of permit-holding private launches every year for the rest of the decade. That exponential increase would lead to 1,280 liftoffs in 2019 — an average of 3 1/2 per day.
"Would that be possible?" Nield asked the audience during a presentation here Wednesday at the 2012 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference. "If you recognize that every day in the United States there are more than 30,000 flights by commercial airliners, then maybe three or four rocket launches per day doesn't sound too unreasonable."
Nield is pushing for this so-called "Moore's law for launch" to become a national goal.
Nield proposed some ideas that he said could help make the annual doubling of commercial launches a reality.
For example, the federal government could offer to pay companies a fixed price per pound to launch construction materials, food and water to the moon, and rocket fuel to low-Earth orbit. In addition to laying the foundation for future lunar colonies and orbiting "gas stations," this effort could help the U.S. private spaceflight industry get off the ground, Nield said.
The government also could help fund a commercial "rocket railroad" that launches frequently on a published schedule, whether payloads are ready to go or not.
An orbital rocket railroad might be a tough sell in these challenging economic times, but a suborbital version wouldn't exactly break the bank. At going rates, the government could get 1,000 suborbital missions for about $200 million, Nield said.
He also floated the idea of prizes, specifically mentioning a cash award for firms that pull off a point-to-point mission from one spaceport to another.