After decades of space flight only being accessible to a handful of highly trained people, we are finally moving into an age where everyday people can boldly go into space and observe the Earth from orbit.
A decade ago, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 was the world’s first privately developed rocket to make it into orbit and started the commercial spaceflight industry. Four year later, their Dragon capsule successfully docked with the international space station. While SpaceX is certainly one of the largest and most well-known spaceflight companies, it isn’t the only one, and the field is set to take off in the next decade.
Sending things into space has become more feasible, efficient and cost-effective. In 2000, the cost of launch was $10,000 per metric pound; now it is less than $1,000. By 2025, it is predicted to cost just $100. With an average of two launches per week, 2018 is truly starting a new kind of space race. But who’s in the running?
A private company that exists independently of NASA, SpaceX does however have a contract with the organisation to deliver cargo to space. SpaceX is currently working through one such contract for 12 resupply missions worth $1.6 billion.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic was formed after the entrepreneur spoke to a child on TV in 1980s. Virgin Galactic has signed a deal with the Federal Aviation Administration to help formulate guidelines for all US suborbital flight, tickets for which Virgin currently sell at around $200,000.
Started in 2000, Blue Origin is the space exploration company set up by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who, making ($2,489 dollars a second), started a business providing the most expensive service in human history. The company motto is Gradatim Ferociter,Latin for ‘Step by Step, Ferociously’ which describes Jeff Bezos’ meteoric climb to one of the most prominent figures in the space business.
The UK Space Agency is the official branch of the UK government that will help regulate and advance the commercial space flight industry. The return on investment in the space industry is around £6 for every £1 spent, and the UK currently accounts for 6.5% of the global market. The UK space sector is already worth £13.7 billion per year and aims to have 10% of the market by 2030.
More environmentally friendly and sustainable space fuels are being developed each year. Spaceships today are powered by liquid hydrogen or oxygen. Transporting goods and machinery into space is incredibly difficult. Transporting anything large is all but impossible. This means structures must be created or built in space or on possible future space colonies. 3-D printing is just one solution, where machinery parts or tools could be made en route.
Another point to consider in how commercial space flight might work is the growing amount of debris in space. Millions of pieces of space junk hover around the planet, ranging from the size of a penny to a school bus.
Space debris can damage other orbital systems, leading to a chain reaction known as the Kessler Effect where more debris is produced as increasing amounts of damage is done to other satellites.
This must be avoided at all costs, and it will become imperative to clear any non-essential materials from the field to create viable commercial space flight for the long-term.
The Secure World Foundation is an initiative dedicated to keeping space travel and exploration sustainable, focusing on minimising the amount of damage space travel might do. There are plans for humans to land on the surface of Mars by the end of the 2030s, and from there move on and out into the solar system.