Is Commercial Space Travel Coming Soon?
Friday, October 14th, 2011
Once upon a time a long, long time ago – well, about 50 years ago – launching rockets and satellites into space was something only governments had the money and manpower to achieve.
Spaceflight was simply too expensive, too time-consuming, and too complicated for private companies to get involved in. And manned commercial spaceflights? Forget it.
But the world has changed a lot in 50 years.
Technological advances have made powerful technologies cheaper, more widespread, and even more powerful — providing commercial possibilities unimaginable when the Apollo missions first launched into space.
Over the same period, the political grip of governments on spaceflight programs has become less fierce. Some governments have opened up selected facilities to commercial space explorers.
As a result, a billion dollar commercial space industry has been born.
Private Industry and Space
Businesses would like to use space to do research in medicine, materials and biology. Other companies want to assist government space programs by providing everything from launch systems to reusable rocket ships. Some companies even want to bring tourists into space.
Deepening collaboration between government agencies and commercial space companies is a trend that’s likely to usher in a new era of space exploration.
Working with private companies isn’t new for NASA — many components of its most iconic spacecraft have been built by private companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
Boeing, for example, does a lot of work for the International Space Station (ISS), building all the major U.S. parts for NASA and overseeing hardware and software integration.
But expect collaborations between private industry and the government to increase going forward. The end result will certainly be cheaper access to space, and with that a huge leap in our ability to explore realities beyond the surface of the earth.
The Leaders of the Pack: Companies Leading the Way in Commercial Spaceflight Development.
California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (better known as SpaceX) is working on reusable launch vehicles, the Dragon spacecraft, and the Falcon — a super-heavy lift vehicle.
In December 2010, SpaceX became the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft when Dragon returned safely to earth.
NASA has plans to use Dragon on resupply missions to the International Space Station, bringing supplies — and up to seven people — to the station. SpaceX was founded by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk in 2002.
Boeing is developing the CST-100 space capsule using financial assistance from NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. (CST is short for Crew Space Transportation.)
The CST-100 is designed to be able to remain in-orbit for up to seven months and can be reused for up to ten missions.
This Nevada-based company is working on a six-person inflatable space station called the BA330 aimed at the commercial and government manned spaceflight markets.
Boeing has plans to serve the BA330 with its CST-100 space capsule.
Created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin is a privately funded aerospace company that’s working on New Shepard, a vertical take-off and landing vehicle designed to bring a small number of astronauts on a sub-orbital journey into space.
One of the company’s stated aims is to lower the cost of spaceflight, making sub-orbital trips into space a real possibility for private citizens.
By emmet cole