SpaceX has a “double-header” planned for the weekend — two separate launches, one set for later today and then another on Sunday. In what seems like a growing theme for SpaceX as of late, today’s launch will again be making history as the mission that put Bulgaria’s first communications satellite into orbit. Even more, this is only the second spacecraft Bulgaria has ever launched into space, the first being a weather satellite launched nearly 36 years ago.
Today’s mission is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. EST and has a two hour window to allow for delays. Thus far, weather seems to be cooperating with these plans. Sunday’s launch is planned for take-off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with a payload of Iridium satellites.
The Bulgarian satellite launch is the second instance of SpaceX reusing a rocket booster. The rapid succession for these launches in indicative of exactly what Elon Musk was hoping to achieve with reusable rockets. Not only does recycling rockets allow for cheaper launches, but it significantly cuts down on the time needed to prepare for each one.
SpaceX is continuing to make history and is cementing itself as the leading provider for the entire world’s extraterrestrial needs.
The nature of these updates was confirmed in a media question session at the Kennedy Space Center in March, during which Musk said he would“provide an update on the design of the Interplanetary Transport System, and by Interplanetary Transport System, that includes the propellant depot on Mars,” He also stated that the tension in the project is to “not just get it done technically, but figure out how to get this done without going bankrupt.” He is, however, hopeful about this new approach.
Despite multiple assertions that the updates will be arriving imminently — including an announcement at an Everyday Astronaut event two and a half months ago that he was coming up “with a number of design refinements and probably ready to put on the website within a month or so” — there has been frustratingly little follow-up.
So, while we wait on tenterhooks for more information — stewing in the meta position of waiting for update news about an update — we were also given, fortunately, a transcript from the talk in which he details his non-updated plan, and gives an exciting look behind the scenes of SpaceX.
Colonizing Mars (thanks Prof Hubbard for creating this from my talk). Major changes to the plan coming soon. https://t.co/s59qMHUj5O
Those who follow Elon Musk on Twitter have gotten used to the flurry of announcements and musings that often arrive in the wee hours of the night. The SpaceX founder and CEO once again rocked the Twittersphere Sunday when he revealed what could be a first for his space company: a launch doubleheader.
If everything works out, it seems SpaceX plans to launch two Falcon 9 rockets from its Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg launch sites this weekend. Musk included a link to a tweet from SpaceX’s Twitter, which indicated June 25 as the target date for the “weekend doubleheader.”
If schedule holds there will be two Falcon 9 launches within 48 hours (Cape & Vandenberg) this weekend https://t.co/GbleRPm6iZ
If the weekend doubleheader goes as planned, SpaceX will have more proof that it’s capable of handling a significant volume of launches. 2017 isn’t even half over, and it’s already proving to be a great year for SpaceX.
On Saturday, Elon Musk posted a video on Twitter giving us a behind the scenes look at the inner workings of SpaceX. The video features shots of people working on both the inside and outside of multiple rockets at the Falcon Factory in Hawthorne, California. It also features some gorgeous frames of the technology, which Musks intends will help democratize space travel.
An earlier tweet gave us an update on Musk’s plan to make humanity a “a space-bearing civilization and a multi-planetary species” by colonizing Mars. Although it provides insight into his logic and initial ideas, Musk did reveal on Twitter that there are “Major changes to the plan coming soon.”
Colonizing Mars (thanks Prof Hubbard for creating this from my talk). Major changes to the plan coming soon. https://t.co/s59qMHUj5O
When starting SpaceX I thought the odds of success were less than 10%, and I just accepted that actually, probably, I would just lose everything but that I would maybe make some progress. If we could just move the ball forward, even if we died, maybe some other company could pick up the baton and keep moving forward, so we’d still do some good.
In 2017, he has exceeded just moving the ball forward in nearly every way possible — on top of becoming an industry leader in space flight, he has made major advances for humanity. Most of these concern space technology that can be used multiple times, reflecting his aim to address the conundrum of rockets being “the only form of transportation on Earth where the vehicle is built anew for each journey. What if you had to build a new plane for every flight?”
SpaceX’s first major landmark this year was to launch a satellite into space on a booster that had already been used before. In March, the company successfully propelled the SES-10 communications satellite into orbit by reusing the Falcon 9 rocket that had previously launched the CRS-8 satellite.
Next came flying the same Dragon rocket to the International Space Station for the second time; the company’s 11th supply mission in total. While the rocket had to undergo significant refurbishment, the mission on the 3rd of June was a seminal accomplishment that convinced NASA of the potential of reusable rockets — Kirk Shireman, Manager of the International Space Station Program, told CBS that “we expect to increase the amount of reflight as (NASA’s contracts with SpaceX) proceed.”
What the Future Has in Store
The next milestone SpaceX is set to cross is to launch the Falcon Heavy — the rocket that “was designed from the outset to carry humans into space and restores the possibility of flying missions with crew to the Moon or Mars.”
If Musk’s tweet that “All Falcon Heavy cores should be at the Cape in two to three months, so launch should happen a month after that” is true, we could see this goal realized as early as September. While the test flight will not carry a human passenger due to safety concerns, it will instead transport the “Silliest thing we can imagine!” into space: after the Dragon carried an enormous wheel of cheese on its first flight, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the Heavy’s cargo could be.
SpaceX is also remarkable for the number of flights it is undertaking, not only their groundbreaking nature. So far this year, it has averaged a flight every three weeks; but the tempo of flights will increase even more. The launch calendar has flights planned on June 17th (BulgariaSat-1), June 25th (Iridium Next Flight-2), and July 1st (Intelsat 35E) — if all these go to plan, this would amount to three flights in two weeks.
SpaceX, then, is marching proudly into the future in terms of both the type and number of flights they are undertaking. While they had a challenging 2015 and 2016, their efforts and achievements in 2017 put them on the right path to achieving their most ambitious goal: putting humans on Mars by 2025.
They say everything’s sweeter the second time around, and that seems to be the case for SpaceX’s plans to colonize Mars. Last year, Musk unveiled his plans to colonize the Red Planet and make it fit for human habitation. Now, that version of the plan has been published and made available for free—with a few notable updates.
In the paper, the focus is on affordability, as that is the primary factor in making life on Mars a reality. As Musk notes, “You cannot create a self-sustaining civilization if the ticket price is $10 billion per person.” In order for it to be viable, Musk asserts that the cost should be about $200,000—equivalent to the median price of a house in the United States. In the paper, Musk outlines the steps he considers essential to ensuring this relative affordability.
But this is just the beginning. Musk posted a tweet today hinting that this version one is already being reviewed…and version 2 is on its way.
Mars V2 plan coming soon, which I think addresses the most fundamental flaw in V1: how to pay for development & operation of giant rockets https://t.co/yaITdVdpEc
According to Musk, the version one has one fundamental flaw, which is the cost of developing and operating giant rockets. While SpaceX has been specializing on reusable rockets, getting to Mars would still be costly due to the size of the rockets needed. According to V1 of the plan, getting to Mars depends on a reusable rocket-and-spaceship tandem, which Musk has called the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). Reducing the costs to developing the ITS is crucial, especially since Musk himself has already put a cap on how much a trip to Mars should be.
Musk asserts that he envisions 1,000 or so ITS spaceships, each of which are carrying 100 or more people, leaving Earth orbit during “Mars windows,” the point in time when Earth and Mars align favorably, which happens once every 26 months.
Outlining the importance of making this information freely available, New Space editor-in-chief Scott Hubbard asserts that “publishing this paper provides not only an opportunity for the spacefaring community to read the SpaceX vision in print with all the charts in context, but also serves as a valuable archival reference for future studies and planning.”
“There is a huge amount of risk. It is going to cost a lot,” Musk wrote. “There is a good chance we will not succeed, but we are going to do our best and try to make as much progress as possible.” By giving everyone access to this information, our chances of success are greatly improved.
The U.S. Air Force recently released their 2018 budget estimates, which include numbers through the early 2020s. The budget combines the entire launch price into a single per launch “unit cost.” For fiscal year 2020, that very high unit cost is $422 million, and it increases to $424 million one year later. In contrast, the SpaceX cost for basic commercial launches of the Falcon 9 rocket is around $65 million, a difference CEO Elon Musk was happy to point out via a tweet.
$300M cost diff between SpaceX and Boeing/Lockheed exceeds avg value of satellite, so flying with SpaceX means satellite is basically free https://t.co/CaOulCf7ot
ULA lost its monopoly on launches when SpaceX entered the competition for national security payloads and won the chance to launch them. A side-by-side comparison reveals that SpaceX’s costs are considerably lower.
For example, in 2016, SpaceX launched a GPS 3 satellite for $83 million. Roughly one year later, SpaceX won another GPS 3 launch contract for $96.5 million. These contracts are higher than the $65 million basic price and represent the government’s “all-in, fully burdened costs,” including things like service contracts and additional range costs that are unique to government contracts.
This means two things. First, the $83 million and $96.5 million price tags are comparable to the $422 million ULA cost in the 2020 Air Force budget. Second, SpaceX may be offering its services for $65 million to undercut the competition and gain traction in the market.
Either way, this dramatic decrease in cost is great news for space travel, whether it be for a government, commercial entity, or even a private citizen.
Even better news is the fact that SpaceX isn’t the only private company making cheaper space travel happen. Bigelow Airspace, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and both Boeing and Lockheed Martin (outside their ULA partnership) are all competing for space travel contracts now, and ultimately, hopeful passengers like us will be the beneficiaries of this competition.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, delivered an address at the International Astronautical Congress held in Guadalajara, Mexico last year outlining his vision of getting humans into space. This talk has now been adapted into a fifteen-page article that was published in this month’s issue of the journal New Space. Musk focuses on affordability as a major factor to ensuring the possibility of Mars colonization. He says “You cannot create a self-sustaining civilization if the ticket price is $10 billion per person.” He believes that the cost should be about $200,000; equivalent to the median price of a house in the United States.
Musk outlines the steps he considers essential to ensuring this relative affordability. The first step, developing fully reusable transport, is already well underway at SpaceX. The company has already proven the reliability of its reusable rockets, and have recently demonstrated the reusability of the Dragon spacecraft. Fueling is also a key factor in controlling costs: equipping any craft with additional fuel will significantly increase the weight of the craft. Musk proposes using methane — which is produced on Mars and would therefore allow for refueling via sources directly on the plant.
Many experts believe that in order to ensure the survival of our species, we must work to be multi-planetary beings. Perhaps Musk’s vision to get us to Mars is the first step toward that goal. Musk’s enthusiasm for his Mars project is quite timely if we are to believe Stephen Hawking, who predicts humanity only has 100 years left on Earth.
We are at the beginning of an exciting crossroads for humanity. The space race of the mid-20th century brought about great change for humanity. It’s looking like this iteration will completely transform us.
Sixty years ago, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite into orbit. The event served as the starting pistol in what would come to be known as the Space Race, a competition between the U.S.S.R. and the United States for spaceflight supremacy.
In the decades that followed, the first human reached space, a man walked on the Moon, and the first space stations were built. The U.S.S.R. and the U.S. were soon joined by other world powers in exploring the final frontier, and by the time the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, the contentious Space Race was something of a distant memory.
In recent years, however, a new Space Race has taken shape—Space Race 2.0. Rather than powerful nations guided by presidents and premiers, however, the competitors in this race are tech startups and private businesses spearheaded by billionaire entrepreneurs. And while the current atmosphere is far less contentious than that of the first Space Race (save the odd tweet or two), the competition is just as fierce.
A Crowded Field
SpaceX, Blue Origin, Bigelow Airspace, Virgin Galactic, Boeing, Lockheed Martin… Not only has the number of private companies engaged in space exploration grown remarkably in recent years, these companies are quickly besting their government-sponsored competitors.
“We’re starting to see advances made by private entities that are more significant than any advances in the last three years that were made by the government,” Chris Lewicki, CEO and President of Planetary Resources, tells Futurism.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX are arguably the two companies that are setting the pace. In November 2015, the former completed the first successful vertical rocket landing after sending their New Shepard 100 kilometers (62 miles) into the air. SpaceX landed its own rocket a month later, only they did so with a craft twice as heavy as Blue Origin’s and traveled all the way into space first.
Private companies may be in the lead, but the finish line for this Space Race isn’t exactly clear. The first iteration was arguably “won” when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon, so does this sequel end when we establish the first Moon base? When a human walks on Mars? When we leave the solar system?
Truthfully, the likelihood of humanity ever calling it a day on space exploration is slim to none. The universe is huge, with galaxy estimates in the trillions, so the goalpost will continue moving back (to bring another sport into the analogy). Rather than focusing on competing in what is ultimately an unwinnable race, private and government-backed space agencies can actually benefit from collaboration thanks to their inherent differences.
“The way that SpaceX, Planetary Resources, or Virgin Galactic approaches space exploration is going to be very different from NASA or the Air Force,” explains Lewicki. Private companies aren’t beholden to the same slow processes that often stall government projects, and they can secure or reallocate funding much more swiftly if need be. However, unlike agencies like NASA, they do have shareholders to keep happy and a need to constantly pursue profitability.
The two sectors, therefore, have a tremendous opportunity to help one another. Private companies can generate revenue through government contracts —for example, NASA has contracted Boeing to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), and SpaceX just closed a deal with the U.S. Air Force to launch its secretive space drone. This leaves the government agencies free to pursue the kind of forward-thinking, longer-term research that might not immediately generate revenue, but that can be later streamlined and improved upon in the private sector.
Ultimately, Space Race 2.0 has no losers. The breakthroughs happening in space exploration benefit us all, and truly, a little friendly competition never hurt anyone (unless you count the egos bruised by those tweets).
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Things are definitely looking up for SpaceX, as the company has recently enjoyed a series of achievements and accomplishments that are helping to prepare it for its planned 2030 Mars mission. SpaceX is currently busy with a number of other missions, however, the most popular of which being the private Moon mission.
But it looks like SpaceX is involved in a secret mission from the U.S. Air Force as well. This activity was revealed by Secretary Heather Wilson on Tuesday. “SpaceX will be sending the next Air Force payload up into space in August,” she said during a webcast testimony to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
This payload is the Air Force’s highly secretive space drone, the X-37B. It’ll be launched aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which first received certification from the Air Force to launch sensitive and costly payloads from the military back in 2015.
“We are excited about this new partnership on creating flexible and responsive launch options and are confident in SpaceX’s ability to provide safe and assured access to space for the X-37B program,” said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.
Securing private and government contracts works well for SpaceX. It provides the company with the funding needed to continue their rocket research. This capacity to further test and develop their reusable rockets will also allow SpaceX to reduce the cost of space travel.
Aside from its NASA and Air Force contracts, SpaceX’s logs list a number of private commissions, ranging from telco satellite launches to even contracts with Airbus and Bigelow Aerospace. Hopefully, this bountiful cooperation will yield widespread advancements in space exploration and travel.
Elon Musk is having a rather good week. He put on an excellent showing at Tesla’s annual shareholder’s meeting, and today, the news broke that Tesla’s stock price has surged. The company is listed on the Fortune 500 list for the first time ever. But of course, we cannot forget about another of Musk’s revolutionary outfits: SpaceX.
Musk’s space company has a number of milestone event planned for the coming months. Case in point, a few moments ago, a question from a Twitter user sparked an update from Musk on the company’s plans to launch the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s massive rocket that will one day take humans to the Moon.
All Falcon Heavy cores should be at the Cape in two to three months, so launch should happen a month after that
In the tweet, Musk confirmed that we will be seeing the rocket launch in just four months, at the end of the summer.
The Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in the world, capable of launching 54 metric tons (119,000 lb) of cargo and crew into space. The rocket will be used to boost the first space tourists to the Moon in a launch expected to take place in 2018. The entire journey is expected to take about six to seven days.
The Falcon Heavy will likely also play a role in preparing SpaceX for the highly anticipated first manned missions to Mars, set to happen by 2025.
We look forward to the upcoming launch and all the promise that its success will bring.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL — SpaceX blasted the “largest and most complicated communications satellite ever built to orbit” for London-based Inmarset at twilight on May 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center aboard an expendable Falcon 9 rocket.
In fact the Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite is so powerful that it has the potential to reach “hundreds of millions of customers,” the Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pierce told Universe Today in a post-launch interview at the Kennedy Space Center.
“This is the largest and most complicated [communications] satellite ever built,” Pearce explained beside NASA’s countdown clock at the KSC press site.
Blastoff of the Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 communications satellite for commercial High-Speed mobile broadband provider Inmarsat took place right on time early Monday evening, May 15 at 7:21 p.m. EDT (or 23:21 UTC) from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The newly-built 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully delivered the huge 6100 kg Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) under brilliant blue twilight skies from the Florida Space Coast.
“#I5F4 has been released & is flying high on its way to geostationary orbit! Safe journey! Thanks for a great launch SpaceX!”
Why launch such the largest and most complicated satellite ever? I asked Inmarsat CEO Pearce.
“We set a very high bar for the service offerings we want to offer for that satellite that just went up and is now on its way to in orbit testing,” Inmarsat CEO Pearce told me.
“That satellite will deliver mobile broadband for a third of the Earth at 50 megabits per second.”
“And by the end of next year those data rates will go up to over 300 megabits per second.”
“To get that kind of data speed you need very high processing powers, you need to deploy the new Ka band — which although it is still relatively unproven is looking like a very exciting new capability for space assets.”
The integrated Falcon 9/Inmarsat-5 F4 were rolled out to the KSC launch pad on Sunday to begin final preparations and were erected at the pad this morning for Monday’s liftoff.
The first stage is powered by nine Merlin 1 D engines fueled by RP-1 and liquid oxygen propellants and generating 1.7 million pounds.
The seven meter long satellite was deployed approximately 32 minutes after launch when it will come under the command of the Boeing and Inmarsat satellite operations teams based at the Boeing facility in El Segundo.
It will now be “maneuvered to its geostationary orbit, 35,786km (22,236 miles) above Earth, where it will deploy its solar arrays and reflectors and undergo intensive payload testing before beginning commercial service.”
The Inmarsat-5 F4 (I-5 F4) will become part of the firms Global Xpress network “which has been delivering seamless, high-speed broadband connectivity across the world since December 2015,” says Inmarsat.
“Once in geostationary orbit, the satellite will provide additional capacity for Global Xpress users on land, at sea and in the air.”
I-5 F4 was built by Boeing at their satellite operations facility in El Segundo, CA for Inmarsat.
The new satellite will join three others already in orbit.
Inmarsat has invested approximately US$1.6 billion in the Global Xpress constellation “to establish the first ever global Ka-band service from a single network operator.”
Inmarsat 5 F4 counts as the sixth SpaceX launch of 2017.
And SpaceX is on an absolutely torrid launch pace. Monday’s liftoff comes just two weeks after the last successful SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff on May 1 of the super secret NROL-76 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO — as I reported here.
Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
SpaceX is wasting no time on their mission to reinvent and revitalize space travel. The company has once again made history by successfully launching the previously-flown Dragon Cargo ship. The craft’s first mission, back in September 21, 2014, successfully delivered 2.5 tons of cargo to the International Space Station.
According to CBS News, for today’s launch, the craft was filled with nearly 6,000 pounds of cargo including supplies, equipment, special telescopes to study neutron stars, mice, and even thousands of fruit flies. The craft launched from the historic Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39A, the same pad from which the Apollo 11 mission launched in 1969.
The craft was successfully launched today, June 3rd at 5:07 PM EDT. Falcon 9 has just touched back down at the time of publishing and Dragon is well on its way in its two and a half day journey to the ISS.
The Dragon spacecraft now joins a prestigious group of multi-orbit space flight craft like NASA’s Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia, Discovery, and Endeavour – firmly planting SpaceX as a formidable force in the new space race.
Hauler on a Budget
This is just the latest move by SpaceX that is poised to completely transform spaceflight. In March, the company made history by successfully launching and landing a recycled rocket for the first time. The relaunch of the Dragon has proven that SpaceX can continue to make missions to space cheaper, and therefore, more accessible.
SpaceX’s plans don’t just stop at restocking the ISS. The company has much bigger plans involving putting people back on the moon next year and sending the first humans to Mars by 2025. While SpaceX is no doubt celebrating this latest achievement, they are hard at work preparing their next feat: launching the Falcon Heavy rocket this summer.
The SpaceX team is truly revolutionizing space travel for the betterment of all of humanity. With a clear goal to make history and push the boundaries of what’s possible on Earth and in space, SpaceX is rapidly cementing its legacy while becoming a forerunner in the race toward the future.
SpaceX has bounced back in a big way since the infamous setback in June of 2015. Since then, SpaceX has revolutionized space travel; launching and landing reusable rockets successfully for the first time in history. Now, SpaceX is moving forward with the launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, an important stepping stone on the path to get humans to Mars by 2025.
SpaceX recently sent a tweet of the rocket being tested. The post also contained a video that showed the raw power of the rocket.
Static fire test of a Falcon Heavy side booster completed in McGregor, TX last week. This booster previously launched Thaicom 8. pic.twitter.com/nWrNCXtu13
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Falcon Heavy has the ability to lift 54 metric tons (119,000 lbs) into orbit. The SpaceX website explains that the rocket “was designed from the outset to carry humans into space and restores the possibility of flying missions with crew to the Moon or Mars.”
The launch is expected to happen sometime this summer and will utilize two boosters from previous flights. This will allow for the cheapest launch of comparable class. The Falcon Heavy has the ability to lift twice as much as the rocket next in line (in terms of size/capability), and can do so at one-third the cost.
NASA has released pictures of its newest robot scheduled to be sent to the Red Planet in 2020. The images show an artist’s concept of the rover at work on the surface of Mars. The design of the robot has not changed significantly since Curiosity, but this new rover will have a completely different mission than the models before it.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-CALTECH
The Mars 2020 rover’s mission will be to search for signs of ancient Martian life. Scientists have been discovering more evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet from photographs taken of certain areas on the surface, and the rover will land on that location in search of tangible evidence. “The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself,” explains NASA in a statement.
The statement also goes into how the rover will accomplish this. “The Mars 2020 rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils, and set them aside on the surface of Mars. A future mission could potentially return these samples to Earth.”
Not Far Behind
Elon Musk’s space travel company SpaceX has its own plans regarding the Red Planet as well. Initial plans are for the company to begin unmanned missions to Mars in 2018 and follow those up by sending humans in 2025. The long-term vision is to colonize Mars to make humanity the first known multi-planetary species.
Unlike the contentious nature of the last space race, NASA does not feel that it is in competition with SpaceX (or any other commercial space organization) to get to Mars first. NASA recognizes the value that private enterprise can have on expediting the innovation necessary to put a human on Mars.
“It’s really important to create, bring some empathy to the table,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said in an interview with Seeker. “There’s a lot of stuff that can be learned by just talking to people.”
Perhaps the Mars 2020 rover will unlock some of the secrets that will make it easier for humans to colonize the planet.
Mars’ relative closeness to the Earth and ample distance from the Sun have made it humanity’s best target for off-world colonization. While a number of institutions are working hard to make a Mars colony a reality, SpaceX was the first to reveal a concrete plan to get to the Red Planet.
That plan has been outlined pretty clearly, but two important parts still lack detail: the spaceship that will transport humanity to Mars and the rocket that would launch that spaceship. While the plan is short on details, it includes plenty of acronyms, specifically MCT, ITS, and BFR.
That transporter would reach space via the BFR, which stands for — no joke — Big F*cking Rocket, which should live up to its name. It’s expected to be bigger than the Falcon 9 and more powerful than the Falcon Heavy, which would make it the most powerful rocket ever built.
Right now, we don’t know too much about the ITS and the BFR. Thanks to a recent Twitter conversation, however, we do know that answers are forthcoming.
When SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was asked for updates about the architectural changes for the ITS and the BFR by Twitter user @RITSPEX, he responded with a promising timeline of “a few month.” As Inverse pointed out, that timeframe would place the announcement in September, one year after Musk first revealed his plans for Mars.
SpaceX conducted its first test of the Falcon Heavy’s main core this week, with a successful result. SpaceX took to Twitter to release the video of the event. The rocket itself was strapped down for the static fire test as the engines of the rocket’s boosters were ignited. The Falcon Heavy uses three Falcon 9 boosters to power its larger rocket, which SpaceX hopes will make commercial space travel a reality.
While the original plan was to have everything operational for carrying space travelers and cargo into orbit by 2013, the latest incarnation of the plan calls for a launch in late summer of 2017. This successful test may indicate that this date is possible, although the SpaceX subreddit lists the test flight in Q4.
It’s possible that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and his team are waiting to see how much progress they make between now and then — or that they just can’t decide yet. However, as Inverse reports, since Musk tweeted the late summer date in March and the subreddit says something different now, it’s possible that they’ve made the decision to push back the date even later, but haven’t announced it yet.
The Falcon Heavy is essential to Musk’s plan to send two private citizens into orbit around the Moon by late 2018. The spacecraft will “buzz” low over the Moon’s surface, although it will not land, and then allow the Moon’s gravity to fling it back to Earth. This week-long adventure would be more than an amazing first for humanity — it would also usher in era of commercial space travel.
SpaceX has made some excellent strides in recent months by proving that it can successfully launch, recover, refurbish, and re-launch its rocket technology. This has been a huge achievement, as reusable rockets have the potential to significantly alter the future of space travel by lowering the cost of launches, leading to greater access to the cosmos.
But SpaceX wasn’t an overnight sensation. Their monumental accomplishment has been developing for years, subject to testing and retesting, with successes and failures all along the way. The Verge was kind enough to compile footage of each of the company’s landing attempts, whether it was a success or went up in flames.
The first two launches were attempted in January and April of 2015, and both ended with unfortunate booms. But the company must have learned some valuable lessons since the third attempt in December of 2015 was a success. The next few landings were a mixture of successes and failures, but SpaceX has been succeeding for more than a year straight now.
SpaceX’s journey is an excellent example of the perseverance needed to thrive in science and technology. These are fields of testing, retesting, confirming, and rethinking — not overnight successes.
SpaceX has plans to re-launch a used Falcon 9 rocket booster. This will be the Falcon 9’s second trip since its launch five months ago, on January 14. The re-launch will also signify the transition of reusable rockets from the realm of the historically notable into the routine business of space exploration.
SpaceX has re-launched a rocket before, but the previous re-launch took place about 12 months after the initial launch. The agency has since cut down the time it requires to re-launch and reassemble its rockets. Ultimately, SpaceX plans to re-launch within a 24-hour period.
More than speed is on the table here; the ability to reuse Falcon 9 rockets saves the company about 75 percent of the total costs of the rocket, $46.5 million of the $62 million total. The end goal will be faster, cheaper, easier space travel that’s accessible to consumers and space agencies alike.
After the March re-launch, Elon Musk remarked at a news briefing, “I hope people will start to think about it as a real goal to establish a civilization on Mars.” Each successful re-launch gets us closer to this aim.
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is ready to take flight. The space tourism company is looking forward to launching their first commercial spaceflights before the end of 2018.
Virgin Galactic has recently tested its re-entry system from the Mojave Air and Space Port. Before this, the company completed its first solo glide flight of its ship, the VSS Unity, late last year. Both tests were successes and further fueled optimism for the company. Galactic Ventures CEO, former NASA staff chief, George Whitesides echoed that optimism during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce.
The six passenger (and two pilot) spaceships will be launched from the air and take passengers to a distance of 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the Earth. Passengers will be able to experience a few moments in microgravity and will have the privilege of taking in a view of the Earth that only a select few have ever had the privilege to see. Right now, tickets for this journey of a lifetime are going for $250,000.
Space Race 2.0
Virgin is not the only company looking to bring tourists to the final frontier. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com founding fame has also started a space travel venture called Blue Origin. Passengers will fly aboard the New Shepard spacecraft to the same altitude as Virgin’s ships. Bezos is hoping to have flights running next year as well.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has also expressed interest in commercial space travel. The company has developed the Dragon V2 spacecraft, capable of carrying seven people into space. Even more, they are looking to take their travel plans significantly further by promising a trip to the moon in 2018.
Clearly, space travel has undergone a significant revitalization. The privatization of space travel will continue to support scientific endeavors by boosting interest in exploring the cosmos, while also making it easier to do so by backing innovation that makes it easier, safer, and cheaper.
The fact that you’re able to read this article means you are one of the more than 3.77 billion people in the world that has access to the internet. While that’s already a good number — more than half of the world’s population, in fact — some 3 billion others don’t have such access. Thankfully, a number of efforts are underway to bring the internet to the farthest corners of the globe, and one of those is being put forth by SpaceX.
“SpaceX plans to bring high-speed, reliable, and affordable broadband service to consumers in the U.S. and around the world, including areas underserved or currently unserved by existing networks,” explained Patricia Cooper, SpaceX’s VP for satellite government affairs, in a prepared statement during the hearing.
SpaceX plans to improve internet speeds and overall connectivity in the U.S. and the rest of the world by putting 4,425 satellites into orbit between 2019 and 2024. The satellites will be transported into space in multiple batches via the company’s Falcon 9 rockets.
A Basic Human Right
The United Nations recently declared internet access a basic human right, and because it bypasses some existing complications to bringing internet service to far-flung areas, SpaceX’s endeavor would be a huge step forward in the effort to ensure all of the world’s citizens enjoy that right. “In large measure, the disparity in available service to rural and ‘hard-to-reach’ areas is the result of the heavy, up-front capital expenditures necessary to achieve connectivity to these locations,” Cooper said.
SpaceX is eager to contribute to the cause. “SpaceX looks forward to being part of the solution to expand access to high-speed, reliable, and affordable broadband internet connectivity in the United States and worldwide,” Cooper said. The web of satellites proposed by SpaceX would bring faster and more robust web access to more people, so now it’s just a matter of whether or not they’ll get the governments go-ahead.
SpaceX has hit another milestone today with the launch of its first big national security payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Image credit: SpaceX
This was the company’s second attempt to launch the NROL-76. The first launch was attempted last Sunday, but was postponed due to sensor issues just a few seconds before it was set to liftoff. And, while the second attempt was successful, it was also very nearly canceled due to high altitude wind velocity.
Given the payload’s classified nature, SpaceX couldn’t readily disclose what it was taking to orbit. However, they were still able to provide an exclusive webcast of the rocket lifting off from the LC-39A facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida—which included a never-before-seen clip of the Falcon 9 first stage, which serves as the core of the rocket, containing its main engine.
Following the launch, SpaceX was actually able to recover the Falcon 9’s first stage. This makes for a total of four completed recoveries for the company, which proves that reusing rockets in the interest of making launches and space travel more affordable is indeed feasible. The success of this particular launch could also be a sign of things to come as private aerospace outfits begin to enter the secretive world of military and national security launches.
In previous decades, governments and national entities were the ones leading humanity’s charge into space. These efforts met with stunning success. The Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union put the very first human in space and took the very first humans to the Moon. The united efforts of five space agencies gave humans a permanent base in space—the International Space Station (ISS). Ultimately, these breakthroughs resulted in the creation of a host of spinoff technologies that transformed our society.
But it has been 40 years since we have been to the Moon. The ISS is nearly 20 years old. Governments have stalled, and a new generation of entrepreneurs has taken over.
This is the age of privatized space. From Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has successfully deployed a host of reusable rockets and carried goods to the ISS, to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which has successfully tested its own reusable rocket and is well on its way to making space tourism a viable option for all people, commercial space companies are taking space out of the hands of governments and giving it to the people.
This is where the New York Center for Space Entrepreneurship (NYCSE) comes in. In short, their main goal is to accelerate humanity’s journey into space, and they seek to do this by working with companies, investors, and other entities in order to help democratize space for all people and create a global space economy. With this in mind, today, they are announcing aseries of initiatives that will support space entrepreneurship around the globe.
To learn more about the initiatives that are being launched today, uncover why private spaceflight is important, and see how NYCSE is working to make space affordable, tune into Futurism’s 360º livestream with NYCSE tonight at 7pm est, which can be found here.
Sidney Nakahodo, Lecturer in International and Public Affairs at Columbia University co-founder of NYCSE, notes that our space projects are transforming at an unprecedented rate. He states that the“convergence of decreasing costs, access to launching opportunities, and fast technology evolution has propelled innovation in new products, services, and business models” is and ushering is into “a new era of space entrepreneurship.”
To this end, by nurturing businesses and entrepreneurs, NYCSE aims to help shape (or reshape) space exploration in the 21st century.
Making Space Affordable
The importance of these efforts cannot be overstated. As Nakahodo notes, commercial space has already helped to create a host of breakthrough technologies, and more are on their way.
Commercial space has helped solve some of the most pressing problems of our time. Telecommunications, GPS, weather forecast are just a few examples of applications. Currently, non-government space already accounts for more than USD 250 billion, around 75% of the total yearly global space economic activity.
Beyond tax revenues and job creation, the most important outcome of the commercial space expansion will be how it will affect our lives. Fundamentally, the more we travel to space, the more we will reflect upon our own place in the universe, both in the attempt to address existential questions as well as a quest for collective inspiration.
Sadly, most innovators, researchers, and entrepreneurs aren’t able to fully participate in this ecosystem, as they lack access to the necessary monetary resources. Nakahodo outlines the succinctly summarizes the specific issue, noting that, “all of this is happening in times of limited public funding for space activities.” This is something that NYCSE hopes to help fix; however, their initiatives are about far more than just providing finances.
For Nakahodo, the most notable aspect of this new age in space entrepreneurship is the way that it equalizes spaceflight, bringing all people closer to the stars. He asserts, “The most interesting projects involve democratizing access and bringing humanity closer to space. That means not only developing the rockets necessary to take us there, such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic are doing, but also creating the infrastructure that will allow private citizens to spend time in space.” And that infrastructure is precisely what NYCSE is working to create.
Outlining the specifics of the work, Nakahodo states that the first problem is tackling issues related to access to information. “One of the main challenges for commercial space ventures is the lack of business knowledge and early stage support. Therefore, we are launching a series of initiatives aimed at assisting space entrepreneurs with business learning and idea validation.”
The next problem stems from issues associated with networking—with connecting individuals working on various aspects of the industry so that they have all of the tools and resources (and people) needed to successfully complete their work. Nakahodo states that the second part of their initiative involves “developing an online platform that will allow space entrepreneurs to help each other, as well connect with mentors and investors.” Finally, NYCSE is giving individuals direct access to necessary resources by sponsoring specific joint programs.
In case you missed it, the initiatives are being fully unveiled today at Knotel. Be sure to tune into Futurism’s 360º livestream with NYCSE at 7pm est, which can be found here.
SpaceX just celebrated one historic launch, and this summer, the company hopes to celebrate another when they send their Falcon Heavy rocket into space. The rocket will use two previously used boosters, and according to SpaceX’s website, “It will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two.”
Falcon Heavy is one of those things that at first it sounded easy. We’ll just take two first stages and use them as strap-on boosters. And like, actually no, this is crazy hard, and required a redesign of the center core, and a ton of additional hardware. It was actually shockingly difficult to go from a single core to a triple-core vehicle.
Falcon Heavy is, as the name implies, a massive craft that can create more than 5 million pounds of thrust in liftoff. The rocket can handle such a large payload that it is even capable of carrying the Dragon spacecraft. The only rocket to have ever before carried a larger payload was the Saturn V Moon rocket, which hasn’t flown since 1973.
Falcon Heavy will be a huge step forward on the path to less expensive, more advanced space exploration. The rocket with a close operational ability, the Delta IV Heavy, costs three times as much as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which was designed with the intent to one day carry humans into space, specifically to Mars and/or the Moon.
“The World’s Most Powerful Rocket”
The hopefully successful launch of Falcon Heavy will likely change spaceflight and exploration as we know it. The outcome of current aspirations to reach Mars rests on our ability to transport extreme payloads, including humans. In just a few months, we’ll know if SpaceX’s reusable boosters will be capable of supporting such an incredible mission.
Private spaceflight was once dreamed about as a part of some sci-fi future, but as the realities of private space exploration unfold, it is clear that the privatization of spaceflight could truly make the Universe accessible.
Privately owned space exploration organizations are not dependent on government budgeting in order to function and create spacecraft. They can send missions in the name of science or simply just tourism. They can create spacecraft for researchers of any nationality, hailing from any country. And so, while the idea of commercializing space travel might sound a bit odd, it could allow for more research, more frequent missions, and unique innovation.
Now, this isn’t to say that government-fueled organizations like NASA are falling behind. The only thing that’s important is that space exploration and invention of this nature continues to flourish. The more people we have pushing boundaries and exploring new possibilities and concepts, the farther we will go.
SpaceX has been getting a lot of attention since its historic launch of recycled rockets. The cost of getting people and technology into space has never been cheaper. This is opening up an entirely new world of possibilities for companies across a variety of different fields. One surprising development coming out of this news is an increased interest in manufacturing in space.
There are a lot of benefits of moving operations to space that can significantly benefit certain types of manufacturing. Space offers the closest physical approximation to a vacuum (something that is impossible on Earth), solar power only limited by what’s collecting it, extreme temperatures, and perhaps most importantly, microgravity. These factors can expand the capability of what manufacturers could accomplish on Earth. Companies are already vying to be among the first to be granted the opportunity to create in space, with exciting prospects across a variety of fields — especially in medicine.
The makers of a revolutionary stem cell printer, nScrypt, are working with two other companies, Bioficial Organs, and Techshot to begin printing real hearts from patients’ stem cells on the International Space Station (ISS) by 2019.
3D printing hearts in this way is not entirely possible on Earth. Researchers have to devise a scaffolding onto which the material can be printed, but it then must dissolve or be removed without damaging the printed structure. However, it is possible to print without a scaffold in space. “If we try to do it on Earth, it would look pretty for about a second and then just kind of melt all over the table,” says Eugene Boland, chief scientist at Techshot. “It would look like you just poured a Jell-O mold and then tried to immediately serve it—it would glob on your plate into this gelatinous mess.”
As you may have seen, most 3D printing needs to be done in layers. The object is built from the ground up one (effectively) 2-dimensional layer at a time. In space, the lack of gravity allows objects to actually print in 3D. Not only that, but the speed of the printing could be up to 100 times faster. For example, the gravity aboard the ISS will allow the printed structure to retain its shape as stem cells work to grow the tissue of a transplantable heart. The hearts could be ready in as little as 45 days. With the average median wait time of a heart transplant being four months in the United States, printing in space could save countless lives.
“People are getting tired of seeing Yoda figures being printed,” says nScrypt CEO Kenneth Church. “They’re saying ‘You promised me a heart. Where is it?’ And what I’m going to tell you is, ‘It’s in space.’”
Manufacturing in space isn’t limited to just saving lives either: more efficient fiber optics cables and solar panels are possible when they are made in space. The future of manufacturing is launching toward the stars, it is clear that even the sky is no longer the limit.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is currently basking in the light of its latest achievement. The company succeeded in starting a spaceflight revolution by being the first entity to launch a mission into space using recycled rockets. The success of this historic mission will significantly lower the cost of space travel. Estimates say the launches could cost up to 30 percent less, saving companies or other organizations millions of dollars.
Musk may still be celebrating the launch, but he’s not at all content with just being the first. In a tweet sent out shortly after the successful landing of the refurbished Falcon 9 rocket, he revealed the company’s next goal for its rocket line: 24-hour turnaround.
Incredibly proud of the SpaceX team for achieving this milestone in space! Next goal is reflight within 24 hours.
SpaceX is looking to make space travel akin to air travel. “We’re really looking for true operational reusability, like an aircraft,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said prior to the launch. “An aircraft lands, goes to the gate, passengers come off, passengers go on, you refuel, and then you fly again. What we’re looking to do is exactly that. We land and relaunch on the same day.”
Flight: The Future
Even after this goal is achieved, SpaceX isn’t going to be done wowing the world. In fact, they’ll be more concerned about impressing other worlds. The company is planning to put a human on the Red Planet possibly as soon as 2025.
Not only will more economical rockets make it easier for SpaceX to get to Mars, they will also fast-track the ability of humans to stay there, setting up colonies beyond Earth. Musk wants to launch an Interplanetary Transit System (ITS) to keep a steady supply line operational between the planets.
As SpaceX is a private, not government-operated, company, it can achieve greater levels of collaboration with other countries to make the mission to colonize Mars a truly international effort. Cheaper flights will be a huge part of that.
Prior to reusable rockets, space flight missions relied on rockets built for single use. These “disposable rockets,” so to speak, were used in NASA’s space shuttle missions, but they were costly — for every mission, a new rocket had to be made.
Now, SpaceX’s cost-saving rockets are poised to usher in a new, cheaper era of space exploration. “At this point, I’m highly confident that it’s possible to achieve at least 100-fold reduction in the cost of space access,” SpaceX’s founder and CEO Elon Musk said after the historic SES-10 mission last week.
SpaceX’s 2012 mission to the ISS marked the first time a private spacecraft docked on the space station, and the latest of its supply missions just took place on February 19. SpaceX has also completed a number of landing tests using its Falcon 9 rockets, as well as missions that launched private satellites into orbit.
Now, with the Falcon 9’s reusability confirmed, things are moving forward for SpaceX. The next step is successfully reusing a Falcon 9, after an inspection and a re-fuel, within 24 hours after landing. According to Musk, “Rapid and complete reusability of rockets is really the key to opening up space and becoming a space-faring civilization.”
The Falcon 9 is powerful and massive enough to reach orbital speeds, and it’s tough enough to survive re-entry. It’s also currently the only truly reusable orbital rocket available. However, it likely won’t be the only one for long as Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin is well on its way to developing its own reusable rocket. The more of these game-changing rockets we have available, the better the future looks for humanity’s exploration of Mars and other off-world wonders.
Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is a little wary of Elon Musk’s ability to send humans to Mars, but he does like what he’s seeing from SpaceX overall.
During a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session, Redditor patopc1999 asked, “Hi Neil! Just wanted to know your thoughts on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 relaunch and landing, and what do you think it means for the future of space travel?”
Tyson replied that “any demonstration of rocket reusability is a good thing,” and he even asserted that “reusability is arguably the most fundamental feature of affordable expensive things.”
The Redditor also wanted to know if Tyson would ever consider joining a future one-way trip to Mars, which prompted a less optimistic response: “I really like Earth. So any space trip I take, I’m double checking that there’s sufficient funds for me to return.” He candidly added, “Also, I’m not taking that trip until Elon Musk send[s] his mother and brings her back alive. Then I’m good for it.”
If you simply walked past SpaceX’s headquarters, you may not realize that Elon Musk’s space travel project is looking for more staff — the futuristic company is way too cool to display an archaic “Help Wanted” sign out front. Those of you who do your job searches digitally, however, will find a wide array of job openings across 41 departments on the company’s careers website.
SpaceX is looking to fill a whopping 473 open positions at posts around the United States. A great majority, 313, of these positions are at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Other locations include posts on both coasts of the U.S., as well as in Texas and Washington D.C.
The jobs run the gamut of experience, from highly skilled engineering positions that require advanced degrees in astronautics, mechanical engineering, or physics to experienced line cooks looking to feed the bodies that hold the brains of rocket scientists. According to Business Insider,“About half of the positions call for engineers, 33% for technicians, 5% for machinists, 5% for specialists, 5% for managers, and 1% for directors,” so there are a lot of ways to play a part in the future of space travel.
Business Is Booming
It’s no wonder that SpaceX is currently looking to ramp up operations. Late last week the company made history by being the first to launch a mission into space using reusable rocket parts.
This achievement is going to revolutionize the way we get to space, and we will likely see a boost across the entire space travel sector as a result of it. In addition to keeping those already involved with SpaceX inspired, this recent success should motivate competitors like Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to up their own games.
Now that reusing rocket parts is a proven concept, we should see a greater push to get technology and even humans up into space. These rockets will save considerable money, allowing space tourists, companies, and other entities greater access to that final frontier.
SpaceX has long said it would like to make its entire Falcon 9 rocket reusable. Today, Elon Musk’s company made history by successfully relaunching and re-landing a used Falcon 9 rocket booster for the first time. The SES-10 mission marks a “historic milestone on the road to full and rapid reusability as the world’s first re-flight of an orbital class rocket.” Falcon 9’s first stage for the SES-10 mission previously supported the successful CRS-8 mission in April 2016.
In an interview after the launch, Musk called it a “huge revolution in spaceflight.”
The recycled rocket carried a satellite into orbit for SES, a Luxembourg-based telecommunications company, which will provide internet and television service for Central and South America.
In order for commercial space travel to be viable, companies like SpaceX have to make it more affordable. Currently, the Falcon 9 costs about $62 million. However, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s COO, says reusing a rocket booster could result in a 30 percent discount per launch, saving companies more than $18 million.
“This is an amazing day for space as a whole,” said Musk post-landing, “for the space industry it means you can fly and re-fly an orbital class booster, the most expensive part of the rocket.”
“This is potentially revolutionary,” John Logsdon, a space policy expert and historian at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, told Business Insider. “Reusability has been the Holy Grail in access to space for a long, long time.”
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is planning to make history today with the first relaunch and re-landing of a previously launched and landed Falcon 9 rocket booster. A successful operation will be revolutionary for future missions to space.
The booster was first launched on April 8, 2016, and was successfully recovered after it landed on a drone ship stationed out on the Atlantic Ocean. The original launch was also carrying a satellite into orbit.
Pending good weather, SpaceX is hoping to relaunch then recover the lower half of their Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket will be carrying a satellite into orbit for SES, a Luxembourg-based telecommunications company, that will provide internet and television service for a large portion of Central America as well as South America.
SES really wanted to be involved in the first launch from a reusable rocket, said Marcus Payer, the global communications director for SES.
“Wherever we can change the industry equation, we will do it. We were waving our hands to be the first,” Payer said in an interview with Business Insider. “We are not risk-averse, otherwise we would not be launching satellites.”
The goal of reusable rockets is to cut the cost of launching missions to space significantly. SpaceX already boasts the most affordable rocket launches in the world, but they could get even cheaper should reusing prove successful, especially since the boosters are the most expensive components of SpaceX’s rockets. The move could give SpaceX customers a 30 percent discount on launches, potentially saving companies $18 million per launch.
Cheap Rides to Space
A more cost effective way to get to space could really invigorate the space industry. Cheaper launches will enable more countries to get in on the cosmic action. Musk is confident that the rocket boosters could be reused more than 100 times.
SES CTO Martin Halliwell said his company is proud to play a role in this innovation. “We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” Halliwell said in an SES press release.
Another exciting potential of reusable rockets is the ability to travel to and from colonized planets. One of SpaceX’s major goals is to get humans onto Mars. The ability to launch multiple missions with the same rockets will significantly cut down the cost of colonizing such a planet.
Even before we see that lofty goal as a possibility, a lot of excellent work can be done with increased accessibility to space. The implications for commercial space travel, communications satellites, and astronomical research could truly make this technological feat one for the history books.
“This is not a one-off. If it works, it will become a key element in all future satellite constellations,” Payer said in the Business Insider interview. “We’ll be double-happy if this goes well, for both our sake and SpaceX’s.”
Today, President Trump signed legislation S.442, giving NASA more than $19.5 billion in funding as well as an ultimatum – get to Mars by 2033. Notably, NASA isn’t going to be dealing with the same cuts as other science and medical agencies (they are set to lose enormous portions of their budget).
This prompted Recode co-founder Kara Swisher to enthusiastically tweet at Musk, “Somewhere @elonmusk is smiling.” Musk, however, seemed anything but happy at the claim, responding: “I am not. This bill changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars.”
He continued, “Perhaps there will be some future bill that makes a difference for Mars, but this is not it.”
Other experts tend to agree with this assesment—that this budget is not a great leap forward, but maintaining the status quo. “I think it’s really more of a vote for stability,” notes Scott Pace, who is the director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.
Unlocking the Mysteries of Space
On the surface, this bill may seem promising. Trump has expressed support for a crewed exploration of Mars, and in his inauguration speech he said he’s “ready to unlock the mysteries of space.” The 146-page legislation document calls for several missions in addition to the following:
Journey to Mars — asks NASA for a roadmap to send people to Mars by 2033; also steers the space agency away from pursuing the Asteroid Redirect Mission (a plan to capture an asteroid, tow it into orbit around Earth, and have astronauts explore the space rock).
Aeronautics — calls on NASA to be a leader in aviation and hypersonic aircraft research; also asks the space agency to look into supersonic-aircraft research that would “open new global markets and enable new transportation capabilities.”
Radioisotope power systems — implores NASA to deliver a report on how it plans to make plutonium-238 — an exceedingly rare nuclear fuel for deep-space robots — and detail what its nuclear-powered exploration plans are.
Congressional declaration of policy and purpose — amends previous laws to make it part of NASA’s mission to “search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.”
However, in addition to not securing added funds for Mars, the Trump administration recently came under fire about the ways in which new budgets cut NASA’s Earth Science funds. According to
To this end, Musk—who is a strong advocate for the environment and renewable energy—has been taking some heat regarding his involvement with Trump’s science advisory board. In a 2015 speech at the Sorbonne University, he urged students to “talk to your politicians, ask them to enact a carbon tax” and to “fight the propaganda from the carbon industry.”
We’re running the most dangerous experiment in history.
And this was not his only call to action. At the end of the day, Musk is as much a proponent for the environment as he is for Mars. In a 2013 interview for USA Today’s Innovators and Icons series, Musk stated that the current climate struggle is literally life or death: “We’re running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe.”
It now seems that, despite Musk’s involvement with the Trump administration, even he cannot influence the White House in the ways he’d like…and he’s not happy.
In case you hadn’t noticed, there are a lot of agencies and companies working hard to get humans to Mars. SpaceX says it will definitely launch their crewed mission by 2020. NASA has a mandate to get the US to Mars by 2033.
China will launch its first Mars probe by 2020 with the aim of becoming a “frontrunner” in space exploration by 2030. While that hasn’t included explicit plans for Mars yet, other frontrunners in space will be there in the 2030s. Mars One’s goal is to establish a permanent human colony on the Red Planet. The UAE has also stated that it plans to place a human colony on Mars, with a safety goal date of 2117.
Pitfalls On Mars
While getting to Mars may be the initial hurdle to overcome, the challenges won’t stop once we get there. Humans living on Mars must be equipped to handle the necessary social disruptions, potential emotional turmoil, medical dangers, and other potential hardships. Life on Mars would demand that humans adapt to the planet — rather than expecting Mars to adapt to their presence. Physical health problems that arise on Mars could well be untreatable, depending on the type of expertise, equipment, or other resources that would be needed to treat them. Further complications could arise on a genetic basis, as concerns of consanguinity could be a threat to colonies if an insufficient number of people for propagation made the journey.
Mental health concerns could be even more salient for Mars colonies, which would essentially be cut off from the life they knew on Earth. Although results from NASA’s HI-SEAS isolation experiment — which seals off small crews near the top of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano — have been promising, many believe that there is really no way to truly prepare humans mentally for life on Mars while they’re still on Earth.
The real, and perhaps simplest, answer may be that life on Mars won’t be for everyone. Neither is life in New York City, or tattoos, or any number of lifestyles or practices. The beauty in the diversity of human experience is that all those things have their loyal adherents — and so will off-world living.
For the first time in human history, human space exploration will go beyond our moon. With more than one organization looking to send humans to the red planet, traveling to Mars isn’t just a distant possibility — it’s an impending reality.
In 2020, there will be a specific launch window that will allow travel from Earth to Mars in the shortest, most efficient path possible. Given our current rocket technology, the trip would take about five to six months. This window will not only expedite travel, but will give organizations a more specific time frame to work within. However, according to current progress, it is most likely that government and private space organizations will be sending only unmanned probes until the 2020’s and 2030’s.
NASA notes that “they are currently further along than ever before in human history on [their] Journey to Mars.” Additionally, last year, SpaceX started testing the rocket intended to bring humans to the red planet, China announced its ambitious plans to reach Mars (with an unmanned probe) by the end of the decade, and the UAE announced that they plan to reach the planet by 2117.
Today we have unprecedented support for Mars exploration from Congress, industry, and the general public. Children born in 2017 are more likely than any generation before them to witness, before their 18th birthday, humans walk on another planet for the first time.
The Reality of Martian Travel
This unprecedented support is encouraging, but it will take a lot more than that to send humans to Mars.
For starters, there will be no stopovers between Earth and Mars — which means that everything humans will need, including (but not limited to) food, water, air, will need to be on board for a trip that experts are estimating to last as long three years. Six months to get there, six months back, and at least a year in between as they conduct research and wait for a launch window.
Of course, given advances in technology and the continued success of the International Space Station (ISS), we are significantly more knowledgeable than ever about space travel and how to ensure an efficient use of resources. Still, even the ISS requires supplies to be sent to the outpost every few months.
ISS astronauts consume nearly two pounds of food daily. If you assume the same volume of food will be consumed by a four-person crew on a three-year Mars mission, that means they need to bring a total of 24,000 pounds of food with them. SpaceX may have been able to deliver a payload of 5,500 pounds of supplies to the ISS, but that was because they used an unmanned Dragon capsule.
NASA tried to find a food solution with a recent 3D printing project that yielded a 3D printed pizza. However, it might be more possible to make up this shortage by space farming, but the field is still in its infancy. To date, the ISS’ Vegetable Production System has only been successful in planting flowers and five harvests of Chinese cabbage. Eventually, though, once the technology is better understood and more trials prove to be successful, space farming could hit two birds with one stone and provide food as well as oxygen.
These challenges are currently being addressed by the different space agencies preparing for their Mars missions. And, hopefully, by the time the launch window opens up, we’ll be more than ready to explore the Red Planet.
Billionaire space entrepreneurs Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are racing to the moon and beyond. On February 27, Musk and SpaceX announced plans to bring two paying space tourists into orbit for a weeklong trip circumnavigating the moon by the end of 2018. Days later, we learned that Amazon Prime really would be everywhere by 2020 when word leaked that Blue Origin and Bezos plan to begin delivery of human habitats, science experiments, and other gear to the moon.
This neck-and-neck progress characterizes the new space race, in which private companies are fueling innovation as much — or more than — countries. The winners aren’t just the owners of the companies, but all humans, as space technologies are continuously developed and improved. For example, Blue Origin and SpaceX both prioritize tech like reusable rockets that cuts cost of space travel, which may eventually make striking out into the universe more accessible to more people.
In other words, when winning the race isn’t about nuclear supremacy, but cornering a market with a streamlined technology or a better product, the space race works for everyone. It bears the same positive fruits that the first space race did: the unprecedented levels of concentrated scientific innovation. However, the modern space race achieves this without as many destructive, unintended consequences as were produced by the Cold War and arms race.
Innovation: Step By Step
SpaceX and Blue Origin have all but publicly acknowledged their rivalry. In November 2015, the New Shepard rocket from Blue Origin landed after a suborbital test flight. Musk congratulated Bezos, but argued that SpaceX’s goal of making a landing during orbital liftoffs is much tougher to master. Bezos, not one to let this go, pointed out that the Falcon 9 first stage doesn’t really make it to orbit and performs a deceleration burn, rendering its landing less of a challenge. One month later, SpaceX did nail its first Falcon 9 landing, only to be hailed a noob in “the club” by Bezos.
Since that time, Blue Origin landed the New Shepard booster four times before retiring it. SpaceX brought eight Falcon 9 first stages back to Earth safely. Both companies are working on big rockets: the Falcon Heavy for SpaceX and New Glenn for Blue Origin.
Now, both SpaceX and Blue Origin are planning to bring tourism to the final frontier, the first step in settling outer space. The SpaceX Dragon will carry its paying passengers first if all goes to plan, but not by much. Both companies plan to have manned units in space and heading for the moon in 2018, not because of any petty rivalry (for the most part), but because Musk and Bezos share the same ultimate goal: the settlement of space.
NASA’s current plans, first outlined in 2010 and later fleshed out in 2015, place humans on the red planet in the 2030s. They are currently developing the necessary capabilities to make it happen in tandem with other agencies and private companies. NASA is collaborating with private innovators, like engineering professor Behrokh Khoshnevis, to 3D print structures on the moon with the eventual goal of creating similar structures that can withstand the radiation of the Martian atmosphere.
Elon Musk sees colonizing Mars as a necessity, and SpaceX has a congruently ambitious timeline for Mars exploration in place. The UAE has plans for a Mars Colony by 2117. Although the ESA is currently more focused on its plan for colonizing the moon, they did announce a joint Mars venture with Russia back in 2011. Even the Mars One Foundation is taking the non-profit approach to what is essentially the same goal: the establishment of a permanent human settlement on Mars.
“We cannot simulate the same physical and environmental conditions to reconstruct the Martian environment, I mean such traits like Martian microgravitation or radiation exposure,” lead author and University of Information Technology and Management cognitive scientist Konrad Szocik told Seeker.
“Consequently, we cannot predict physical and biological effects of humans living on Mars.”
Many discussions of terraforming Mars have ensued over the years, but the issue of any atmosphere created simply blowing away is a sticky problem for Mars. NASA scientists have conceived of a magnetic shell for Mars which might be able to retain an atmosphere. However, for each technical solution to a specific physical problem, there are numerous other issues that — according to the authors of the Space Policy paper — point to an inescapable conclusion: it will be more practical to modify the minds and bodies of the future residents of Mars than it will be to change the planet to support them.
For Szocik, the social and political aspects of how a Martian colony would function are just as problematic as physical challenges and health problems. “A human being is a social animal and he lives in a group,” he said. “Group problems affect many challenges and troubles, and we should consider now how we can prevent such typical human problems like conflicts, wars, cheating, etc.”
Szocik is also concerned about maintaining life on Mars. First, we would need a large enough colony to avoid problems of consanguinity, and we’d need a suitable technological and medical support system. Each medical worker would need to be specially trained to sustain and extend life on Mars in particular—which is, of course, something that basically no one in medicine at the moment is trained to do. In that respect, preparing for life on Mars might begin with changes here on Earth: we’ll have to reconsider everything we know about learning, relating, working, and be willing to redefine our life expectations.
Aerospace entrepreneur Robert Bigelow thinks space stations could be orbiting the Moon by 2020. However, he stresses, these giant refueling depots will only be possible by that time if the Trump administration prioritizes the national urgency and funding that such an initiative will need.
“The key is going to be how fast the Trump administration can react,” Bigelow told Space.com in a March 3 interview, adding that the administration would have to move quickly “to energize funds and to galvanize the private sector.”
Bigelow, who heads Bigelow Aerospace, understands the industry. His company has already launched three private inflatable space-habitat prototypes into orbit. The most recent is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) project, which was delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2016 via a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship. BEAM is the first inflatable room ever privately built and installed on the space station. It was created as part of a NASA future space habitats test, and thus far, Bigelow reports that it is performing well.
Take a Trip to Space
Space tourism is a hot topic for Bigelow and other space entrepreneurs.
On February 26, Elon Musk announced that SpaceX will launch a private flight to the Moon in 2018. The charter aboard the Dragon capsule already has two passengers who have made “significant deposits.” Those private citizens will have the opportunity to orbit the Moon after launching via SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Also with his eyes on the Moon is Jeff Bezos, who told The Washington Post on March 2 that his private space company, Blue Origin, is making its own plans for a Moon venture.
Habitats for the Moon and beyond and private space stations are goals for Bigelow and his company. He hopes to launch a colossal inflatable space habitat and free-flying private space station into orbit in 2020 and claims that Bigelow Aerospace aims to provide habitats at “a fraction” of NASA’s cost. As his company and others make space flight cheaper and more accessible, humanity will be able to extend its reach beyond our home planet, perhaps one day visiting and even colonizing new ones.
If immortality is the Holy Grail of Futurism then the colonization of Mars is its Holy Sepulchre—a big empty tomb. Both attract their pilgrims: the former is a fairytale; the latter is a real place just out of reach, a sort of tantalizing inspiration to hungry dreamers everywhere salivating for land that doesn’t belong to them. These days, from the promises of Elon Musk to the heroics of Matt Damon, we positively fetishize Mars. Yet my advice to the 11th century crusader and the 21st century Martian colonist would be the same: tend your own garden.
I’m afraid that this is blasphemy from someone who calls himself a Transhumanist. After all, the colonization of space is tangentially connected enough to other themes associated with technological progress that they’re ordinarily all lumped together under the general banner of Futurism. In an increasingly divisive political climate, the promises of SpaceX and Mars One shine like the hope of some long-awaited escape from ourselves.
We might not have cities on the moon, but the fruits of space programs enrich our lives immeasurably.
More fundamentally, the allure of space colonization is at the heart of some of our most beloved cultural narratives, shaping the aspirations of explorers since the first days of NASA and the Soviet Space Program. Even the earliest films lionized astronauts. The moon landing was the greatest collective lived experience of the twentieth century, this perfect human achievement more majestic than the pyramids and just as pointless only to the cynical.
Today, we might not have cities on the moon, but the fruits of space programs enrich our lives immeasurably. And given our recklessness when it comes to the fragile environment of this planet, perhaps we could use another world as a backup, just in case. We already have the technology to achieve the goal of getting to Mars, though for a perfect storm of reasons, it has yet to happen. But isn’t getting there a worthy goal? And won’t the journey there (and not only the physical journey, but the technical refinements forged along the way) benefit the cause of Progress with a capital P? Then what the hell am I complaining about?
My intention here isn’t to trash space exploration or regale you with clickbait about the top eleven reasons why the colonization of Mars would be a tragic mistake at this juncture in time. However, I want to seriously problematize the prospective colonization, if you’ll excuse a word that academics tend to overuse. I don’t want to focus on the hackneyed and frankly shortsighted idea that the money spent on getting to Mars could be better employed for services here on earth.
My critique has to do with the repercussions of contemporary attitudes about the seemingly unrelated topics of imperialism in outer space on the one hand and Transhumanism on the other. Cultural prejudices enshrining heroic astronauts blazing across the sky and mad scientists forging abominations pose serious problems for Transhumanists of all stripes and would-be Martian colonists alike.
If the predominant image of space colonizers enshrined in our zeitgeist is heroic pioneers soaring across the galaxy in the name of science and adventure, the narratives surrounding genetic engineering and cyborgs are positively apocalyptic by comparison—just think of Frankenstein, the Terminator, and GATTACA.
Somehow, an astronaut’s 400 million kilometer journey from Earth to a theoretical outpost in a faraway wasteland seems less terrifying than a head’s four-meter journey from its body to a theoretical apparatus capable of supporting its consciousness.
The reasons for this difference in our intuitions are varied. They partly have to do with the genealogy of our ideas about imperialism in outer space, which are grounded in discourse about the benefits of the exploration and exploitation of underdeveloped foreign lands, exotic travelogues, Cold War propaganda, epic films, etc. They also have to do with the attitudes that surround Transhumanism, grounded in skepticism about discredited fields like galvanism, the abuses of the eugenicists, deep-seated fears surrounding physiological dislocation and dismemberment, etc.
Heroes and Monsters
The end result of all this discourse is that, right now in the popular imagination, would-be cyborgs are monsters and would-be Martian colonists are heroes. Let’s take it for granted that the exploration of Mars would provide net benefits for society at large. Nevertheless, whether from the vantage point of someone who wants to investigate Mars and preserve its landscape (let’s call this the environmentalist perspective) or someone who wants to colonize and terraform it (the imperialist perspective, which incidentally seems to completely dominate the environmentalist one), the problem inherent in this tension is immense.
First, imagine you were an environmentalist who felt strongly against the radical transformation of Mars. Your reasons might be varied. To you, the urge to dominate nature with the clutter of terrestrial civilization might seem arrogant and intrusive. True, there are no indigenous Martians to despoil. But the process of terraforming the planet’s surface would still seem to be hugely rapacious.
Imagine drowning its pristine scarlet valleys in water and clouding its translucent atmosphere with chemicals. Wouldn’t even the most single-minded developer preserve some of the planet’s original landscape rather than transform it all? Doesn’t this intuition concede that there is inherent value and beauty in the wild state of the place? If advanced aliens exist within visitable distance of our planet, they are evidently the type to silently observe or ignore us rather than actively intervene in our affairs. How primitive it might seem to them that our conception of space travel in 2017 is still bound to the small-minded earthly impulse to barge in, dominate nature, and claim random parcels of it as our own.
From this perspective, the only visits to Mars should be undertaken for the sake of exploration rather than colonization. The best agents to do so would be robots and cyborgs rather than unenhanced human beings, whose imprint on the environment would be immense by comparison. Yet until the development of cyborgs, we are doomed to either only know Mars indirectly or permanently scar its landscape as successive generations of pioneers perish on its inhospitable surface.
Now, consider the imperialist perspective. To you, between climate change, nuclear war, plague, and pestilence, the existential threats to human civilization are great enough that you feel we need to colonize Mars as soon as possible or face the potential extermination of civilization as we know it. The preservation of the beauty of nature is all well and good, after all, but human interests come first.
Yet the conditions on Mars for the colonizers would be like something out of Dante; indeed, the first Martian immigrants should be “prepared to die,” warns Elon Musk.
As it is, we can’t even control the weather yet here on Earth, let alone create a colony on another planet with an inhospitable atmosphere. The bright eyed and bushy tailed original colonists would be like Joseph Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz, fantasizing about the march of civilization but ending up the lonely dupes of capitalism wallowing in lunacy in a dark place where they shouldn’t have ventured in the first place.
On closer reflection, the imperialist would realize that until it became feasible to travel to Mars on a mass scale, the original colonies could only remain pitiable outposts for misguided dying settlers and insanely rich tourists rather than anything like a safety net for civilization at large. The fastest and most efficient way to transform the landscape would be by the sweat of cyborgs. And yet ironically, with the advent of cyborgs, the need to terraform the environment to suit un-enhanced human needs would perhaps be moot.
While I might have misgivings about the subjugation of a planet ironically named for the god of conquest, I don’t want to disparage a journey there as an admirable Futurist goal. But whether you are an advocate of peaceful exploration or large-scale colonization, the time has come to think realistically about the requisite intermediate steps. We need to make heroes of the pioneers who are willing to risk their lives and careers to overcome the hurdles on the way to our destination “in this dark march toward whatever it is we’re approaching.”
Cyborgs and space explorers are entirely akin in their willingness to risk their lives for the sake of challenging the boundaries of conceivability. Yet in 2017, we call volunteers for the journey to Mars heroes, and there are no volunteers at all for brain implants because no doctor would ever dream of performing such an operation or convening a conference to discuss plans for one.
If a prominent surgeon called for volunteers and warned, as Musk did, that they must be prepared to die, I wonder if the public would meet the declaration with the same resigned sigh in recognition of the heroism of all involved. The principle is precisely the same: a human life is at stake. Yet we are willing to sanctify the sacrificeof the astronaut and glorify him, but would rather reverse engineer a machine analogous to a human brain than implant a machine into one
Investment in Mars in the absence of Transhumanism as a vigorous social ideology doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of Transhumanism, but it does come at the expense of the future of Mars. The most widespread current projections of the next century of human development imagine the needs of unenhanced humans predominating as a matter of course. Hence, long-term plans for Mars call for terraforming the planet to create a second Earth. Yet this limitation in our imaginations augurs great brutality and a great deal of human blood spilled along the way as we struggle to dominate conditions not meant for our bodies.
This, of course, does not mean I think there should be no exploration of Mars, or even that I am dead-set against eventual colonization. But I would hope that any such colonization would be undertaken in a spirit of great respect for nature, imposing upon it, let alone uprooting it, as little as possible. And I would also pray that the path toward colonization would be blazed with as few deaths as possible along the way.
Yet this can only take place after the ascendancy of Transhumanism and not a moment before it. For the time being, I would no more recommend a journey to Mars than I would a voyage across the Atlantic to an ancient Roman armed with nothing but a leaky trireme and his copy of Ptolemy.
David Vincent Kimel is a doctoral student in History at Yale. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram (spqrkimel). Visit his blog at earthasitis.com.
NASA made a recent public request. They stated that they were looking for opportunities to “hitch a ride” on non-NASA missions to Mars. This might sound strange at first, but it makes sense. NASA is not the only agency launching and planning to launch missions into space, and bringing smaller NASA experiments aboard privately owned ships could allow for quicker advancements in research. NASA, along with many others, has ambitious plans of eventually sending manned missions to Mars. However, in order to further our explorations into space, we must first have more information.
Relying only on the data provided by NASA missions would slow progress. Partnering with private agencies like SpaceX would not hinder any privately-funded research, it would only add to the amount and type of information gathered.
NASA has big plans for the future. They have done extensive research into the possibility of terraforming Mars, had astronauts simulate living on Mars for an entire year, and continued planning unmanned missions to the Red Planet in order to learn more. There has even been recent discussion of creating an artificial magnetic field around Mars in order to terraform it over time and make it habitable for humans.
There is a lot of work ahead if NASA wants to put humans on Mars and, hopefully, one day terraform the planet. While there have been successful unmanned missions from NASA and other organizations, joining forces will allow for this progress to accelerate for the benefit of all parties involved. This wouldn’t be a merger of institutions, but rather a smart way to combine resources and eliminate waste. More frequent research on Mars will lead to better science and more informed space exploration. And, as scientists continue to develop the best ways for us to exist on the Red Planet, it is important that we better understand the mysteries of Mars.
Early this week, Elon Musk of SpaceX made an exciting announcement: humans are going back to the Moon next year. An interesting detail of the plan is that the crew is expected to include two private citizens who have apparently “already paid a significant deposit” to become part of the first Moon mission in more than 45 years.
The journey will take about a week, reaching around 480,000 to 640,00 km (300,000 to 400,000 miles) into space — extending past the 401,000-km (249,000-mile) record set by the Apollo 13 astronauts back in the 1970s.
There have been significant advances in space travel in the decades since the U.S. managed to put a man on the Moon. Even so, this private Moon mission is not without risks, especially to its paying passengers.
Customer (Life) Support
On their mission, the space travelers will likely experience severe motion sickness because zero gravity confuses the balance sensors in the inner ear. The absence of gravity also causes biological tissues to expand, so while the space tourists will be able to snap a selfie with the Moon in the background, they’ll have to deal with puffy faces in their post. More serious concerns could come from radiation exposure. This risk will be partially mitigated by the spaceship’s built-in protection against radiation, as well as the short time-frame of the mission, but these do not completely eliminate the danger.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of space travel are the circumstances that we can’t yet predict. For instance, spacecraft failure and other technical difficulties that could take place during blastoff, over the journey, or even upon reentry into Earth, could prove to be dangerous.
Consider also that, up until now, only extremely healthy people have been sent to space — and they still went through rigorous training and health checks to ensure their bodies were up to the task. A burgeoning space tourism industry means we might one day be sending relatively unhealthy people into space — people who could require medication to travel. Their health will be subjected to a completely new environment, and, should a medical complication arise, the medicine and equipment necessary to treat it could be hundreds of thousands of kilometers away.
Nevertheless, private companies like SpaceX continue to look for solutions for these potential problems. This year, SpaceX will launch the unmanned Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, followed by a manned mission in the second quarter of 2018. The next stop after that will be the Moon. And then, if everything goes as planned, we will finally make our way to Mars.
As it has in the past, space exploration continues to demonstrate that humanity is willing to take a few risky steps in order to make that next giant leap.
It’s a private endeavor. The two passengers actually approached SpaceX and have already paid a significant deposit for the first private space tickets to ever be sold. The passengers will be trained and prepared for this mission, of course. “We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow,” SpaceX said in a statement.
Though a private mission, it has NASA’s approval. “NASA commends its industry partners for reaching higher. We will work closely with SpaceX to ensure it safely meets the contractual obligations to return the launch of astronauts to U.S. soil and continue to successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station,” NASA said in a statement released after Monday’s announcement.
A Dragon aboard a Falcon Heavy is set for a crew-less maiden voyage to the International Space Station (ISS) by the end of this year as part of a program with NASA. SpaceX’s first crewed flight is slated for the spring of 2018, and the Moon mission will be just the second time the rocket venture company launches people into space.
A Giant Loop for Mankind
It’s not a landing mission, really. It’s more like a cruise during which the Crew Dragon spacecraft will loop around the Moon.
During the announcement, Musk said the Crew Dragon “would skim the surface of the moon” before heading “further out into deep space” to be thrust back to Earth. According to Time, the mission will follow a “circumlunar trajectory, in which the ship simply swings around the far side of the moon and allows lunar gravity to fling it home, rather than settling into orbit.”
The journey will probably take around six to seven days: two to three days going to the Moon and another two to three coming back. Extra supplies of propellants, oxygen, water, etc., will be on board to sustain the passengers.
The biggest hurdle is the launch. SpaceX has had some troubles with those in the past, and this time, people will be on board. The company has been taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of its launches, and it hasn’t experienced any mishaps since its Falcon 9 rocket explosion in September.
Reentering the atmosphere is another challenge. Though designed for a touchdown, SpaceX has said previously that its Dragon spacecrafts can safely land anywhere, even on water.
The success of SpaceX’s private lunar mission is in everyone’s best interests, of course. “Designed from the beginning to carry humans, the Dragon spacecraft already has a long flight heritage. These missions will build upon that heritage, extending it to deep space mission operations, an important milestone as we work towards our ultimate goal of transporting humans to Mars,” SpaceX said.
This mission has the potential to usher in an era of deep space tourism — as long as you have the money to pay SpaceX for the tickets, of course.
Rocket science isn’t easy. Ask any engineer. Rocket science isn’t cheap. Just ask NASA. Fortunately, in recent years, a number of commercial spaceflight companies have stepped up to the plate in order to help national space agencies extend their reach into the final frontier.
Innovative companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin have accelerated the development of reusable rockets exponentially. In so doing, they have dramatically reduced the cost of leaving our pale blue dot, improving both our ability to explore the cosmos and scientists’ capacity to conduct research beyond Earth.
To be more specific, in 2012, SpaceX became the first private space company to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Previously, this monumental feat was something that had only been achieved by world governments.
At the present time, the company is working on the Crew Dragon, a next-generation spacecraft that is designed to ferry humans to the ISS. One day, SpaceX even plans to land on Mars, and if Musk has anything to say about it, humans will be on the Red Planet—possibly living there for good—in the next decade or so.
Ultimately, private spaceflight companies are leading our charge into the cosmos. This is because successfully reusing boosters is a critical part of bringing down the cost of launches…and it’s something that the world’s governments have failed to produce.
With this technology, we won’t have to build a completely new rocket for every single mission. According to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, reusability could lower the cost of rocket launches by a staggering 30 percent.
A fully reusable vehicle is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.
Likewise, Musk asserts that such rockets are the key to a truly economically viable space industry: “A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space. If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred.”
And Blue Origin echoes these sentiments, with Bezos calling such technologies “the Holy Grail of rocketry.” After the first landing of Blue Origin’s New Shepard resuable rocket, Bezos wrote, “I believe this is a new Golden Age of space exploration. The first Golden Age was the ’60s. We have been treading water for a long time. We are on the verge of a new Golden Age in rocketry. I believe one day all rockets will have landing gear.”
This means that we can have more frequent and cheaper launches. This, in turn, means faster progress in both commercial spaceflight and our off-world research and exploration. In short, private spaceflight is ushering in a new age in our voyage into the cosmos.
Above And Beyond
Yesterday, Musk stated that SpaceX would have a breaking announcement today at 4pm EST (1pm GMT). And he just revealed that SpaceX will be sending two private citizens around the Moon.
The space company said in a statement that the two individuals have “already paid a significant deposit” to do a Moon mission. Initial training, along with health and fitness tests, are set to occur later this year, SpaceX continued.
Ultimately, this is the first flight to the Moon with a crew in more than 45 years, and SpaceX went to lengths to point out the significance of this work: “Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration.”
SpaceX also outlined the nature of the project and clarified the timeline:
SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission….We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.
To break this down, to begin, SpaceX plans to launch the Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft to the ISS without people on board this year, and then a subsequent mission with crew will fly in the second quarter of 2018. From there, the company will head to the Moon, an important milestone as they work towards the ultimate goal—transporting humans to Mars.
This year has already been a rather epic one for SpaceX and Elon Musk, and it’s only February. Just last week, we saw the Falcon 9’s third successful landing on solid ground, a landing which took place alongside SpaceX’s first commercial rocket launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
The significance of these reusable rocket landings cannot be overstated.
Successfully reusing boosters is a critical part of bringing down the cost of launches, as we won’t have to build a completely new rocket for every single mission. According to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, reusability is expected to lower the cost of launches by a staggering 30 percent.
This would allow for more frequent launches and, as a result, faster progress in both commercial spaceflight and our off-world research and exploration. But it seems that Elon Musk has something else up his sleeve.
“SpaceX announcement coming at 1 p.m. PST,” Musk wrote on Twitter yesterday. If you need some translation, that means that the reveal is set for 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT).
Unfortunately, SpaceX representatives won’t say anything more than simply “stay tuned.” As a result, speculation abounds. Do they have an update on their mission to get humans Mars? News about the development of the Falcon Heavy rocket? Are they launching a new kind of program? Do they have a new major contract?
Evidently, SpaceX is getting a lot better at landing its reusable rockets. The Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket that was used to safely transport satellites and the Dragon spacecraft into orbit, and we are now able to see the Falcon 9’s third successful landing on solid ground from a drone’s unique vantage point.
This was SpaceX’s first commercial rocket launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The rocket was sent to deliver a payload into space. To capture the moment, a camera-equipped drone was sent to film the Falcon 9’s downward journey through the clouds to touch safely down on SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1.
Successfully reusing boosters is a critical part of bringing down the cost of these launches because they won’t have to build a completely new rocket for every mission. According to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, achieving this level of reusability can bring down launches by as much as 30 percent. This could, over time, allow for more frequent launches and faster progress.
Do we really need to explore Mars? According to tech innovator Elon Musk, it’s not just a choice we have to make, it’s a necessity. “We will stay on Earth forever, and eventually there will be an extinction event…and the alternative is to become a spacefaring and multiplanetary species—That’s what we want.”
But when exactly are we getting there? Originally, SpaceX’s first foray to Mars, via a lander called Red Dragon, was expected to happen by 2022—which was considered a fairly feasible timeline. However, bolstered by numerous successful launches and Musk’s powerful vision, SpaceX moved their target date up to 2018. Now, a new announcement from SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell confirms that they are changing the timeline yet again. A mission, named Red Dragon, to Mars is now set to launch in 2020 so that SpaceX can focus on other equally ambitious projects like their commercial crew program and Falcon Heavy programs.
“We were focused on 2018, but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program. So we’re looking more for the 2020 timeframe for that,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said at a recent pre-launch conference.
Earlier this year, Musk stated that SpaceX’s manned missions to Mars could begin as soon as 2022, which is a full three years sooner than his previous estimate of 2025. However, given this latest development, it seems that humans will have to wait a little bit longer to walk on the Red Planet.
However, if Musk’s previous accomplishments are any indication, it will only be a little bit longer.
The Importance of a Martian Missions
Missions to Mars would ideally be launched every 26 months when the planet is aligned with Earth. The 2020 planned lander will be critical for future possible manned missions as it will test technology required to land heavy equipment on the Martian surface—a task that, given Mars’ unfamiliar terrain and thin atmosphere, could be difficult to execute. Heavy payloads entering Mars won’t have the planet’s atmosphere to cushion their landing and so there is the risk of very abrupt and hard landings.
What sets Red Dragon apart from other Mars landers is its use of a supersonic retro-propulsion—which means it will use rockets embedded in the hull to allow for larger spacecraft to land safely. Should the technique prove to be successful, this lander will be the biggest vehicle to land on the planet thus far.
Moving the launch to 2020 also means that SpaceX will be able to join several other Mars-bound expeditions stemming from government agencies and private outfits. NASA is expected to launch its next Mars rover within the same year. The ExoMars mission, a joint initiative from the Roscosmos and European Space Agency (ESA) who originally planned its second phase to take place in 2018, has also been moved to the end of the decade. There’s also talk of the United Arab Emirates sending an orbiter to the red planet by then, along with China who has expressed its intent to reach Mars by 2020.
If all these missions make their targets, it will indeed be a busy 2020 for the red planet.
The launch is being delayed while the issue is investigated. Once it’s back on track, the launch will be the first to take place at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’sKennedy Space Center since the final shuttle launch back in July of 2011. NASA leased the pad to SpaceX for twenty years back in 2014.
The launchpad was built in the 1960s as a part of the fabled mid-century Space Race. The pad has been the site of some of the most significant launches in the history of space flight. Nearly all manned Apollo-Saturn V launches, commencing with Apollo 8, used Pad 39A. The pad also played important roles in the launches of Skylab as well as the first space shuttles. Once the technical wrinkles are ironed out for SpaceX, some exciting new entries will likely be added to that storied history.
SpaceX has made some significant strides in its programs, but they do often get overshadowed by their hiccups. Back in September of 2016, the company was dealt a heavy blow with an explosion after a fueling accident that damaged their nearby launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Still, the strides SpaceX has made are remarkable. This past December, they celebrated the anniversary of the first completed launch and landing cycle of their reusable Falcon 9 rockets. Reusable rockets will significantly reduce the cost of space missions, thus making the volume of launches more accessible to greater numbers of researchers or adventurers.
One of the company’s loftiest goals is to put a human on Mars by the end of 2025. Perhaps Launch Complex 39A will get to add another first to its storied history.
In a rather unromantic gesture, on February 14, SpaceX will be launching an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” into space. The bug will be living in microgravity aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The bacterium that will be shot into space will be the, often feared, MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
Even so much as the mention or MRSA send shivers down the spines of many. MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant staph infection that can represent itself in the human body in the skin as painful, swollen, red bumps; but the infection can also travel further into the body, wreaking havoc on bones, joints, even the blood. This potentially life-threatening infection kills more Americans than HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, emphysema, and violence combined…every year.
So, why would scientists launch this dangerous bacterium into space and bring it aboard the ISS? Well, not for any nefarious or dastardly reason. The purpose of this project is to accelerate the mutations of the bacterium, allowing the scientists to watch the progression of the bug quicker than it’s progression on Earth, getting information ahead of those of us back home.
Our Medical Future
According to lead researcher Anita Goel, CEO of biotech company Nanobiosym, “We will leverage the microgravity environment on the ISS to accelerate the Precision Medicine revolution here on Earth.” In other words, using information from this study of the sped up life cycle of a MRSA bacterium, these scientists will be able to understand how bacteria change and mutate at a much faster rate than we would on Earth.
This information could be extrapolated to bacteria besides MRSA, and allow scientists to better understand how MRSA (and, in the future, other infections) travel through the body and mutate throughout their lives. This objective could lead to a medical future where even the most formidable antibiotic-resistant bacteria are no longer a fatal threat.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has been moving quickly on the development of what he calls “The Boring Company.” In January of last year, he presented a proposal at the Hyperloop Pod Competition for a company that would lighten traffic through the use of underground tunnels. One year later, Musk mentioned that construction of a tunnel could begin in Los Angeles by the end of February.
Musk hasn’t fallen short of his promise – his new boring machine began to dig a tunnel as part of a demonstration at SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition last weekend. Although the machine has only created a mere hole, his team plans to eventually construct a full-fledged tunnel.
Musk hasn’t been too clear about how the tunnel will function, but the Hyperloop could be involved – after, it is supposed to be able to work above or below ground. Musk has, at the very least, not denied the connection:
For those that are curious enough to see what Musks’ boring machine looks like, he released a photo of it on Twitter recently. This might be only one part of a massive machine without the cutting head attached.
Although tunneling machines already exist, Musk’s company would be unique because the machines would make tunneling faster, speeding up the digging process almost tenfold compared to conventional methods. If Musk’s boring machine can make tunneling quicker and easier, underground transit could also become more popular. Tunnels would be a solution to heavy traffic, especially in urban areas, as well as a potential way to bring transportation into buildings.
Musk isn’t exactly serious about creating a separate entity called “The Boring Company.” Thankfully, the project fits into Tesla’s mission to alleviate traffic which, in turn, will reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
His boring machine is also in line with SpaceX’s mission to eventually settle a colony on Mars. It could be used to test the viability of tunnel construction on the Red Planet, creating underground habitats that would protect people from extreme cold, low pressure, and high radiation.
A letter issued by 10 Republican Congress members has raised concerns about a defect found in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket that could one day put astronauts’ lives in danger. The letter, addressed to NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the heads of the Air Force, cites the September launch pad explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and a communications satellite. The incident prompted SpaceX to ground all its rockets for months and conduct its own investigation, which the government is still questioning, given the possible conflicts of interest.
Although subject to FAA oversight, it can be asserted the investigation lacked the openness taxpayers would expect before a return-to-flight. We feel strongly that the current investigation should be led by NASA and the Air Force to ensure that proper investigative engineering rigor is applied and that the outcomes are sufficient to prevent NASA and military launch mishaps in the future.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has identified cracks in the rocket’s turbine blades, responsible for powering the turbopumps that drive propellant into the engines. This defect is enough to require major design changes that could cause additional delays for SpaceX, especially since these issues could prove to be dangerous for its impending manned-missions.
SpaceX Says Rockets Are Robust
Under federal law, SpaceX is allowed to conduct its own investigation. SpaceX asserts that, despite taking the lead in the investigation, they did so with FAA supervision and ensured transparency in their findings. In fact, following the September explosion and their investigation, SpaceX was able to successfully launch and land the Falcon 9 this year.
Regarding the GAO’s concerns outlined in the draft, they argue that their engines are designed to withstand cracking in the turbines, but are nevertheless already working on addressing the problem. Right now, the company is already employing modifications that will be added to the final design and will be working with NASA to ensure that the engines are safe for crewed missions.
The GAO’s report has yet to be released, but should the issue of the turbine cracks make it to the final report, it will mark the second time experts have raised concerns about the safety of SpaceX’s rockets. Back in November, NASA advisors questioned the safety of the SpaceX’s plan to fuel the Falcon 9 while people were on board; to which SpaceX replied that their fueling system and launch process was specifically designed to minimize the risk to people on board.
SpaceX declined to comment on the letter. The FAA said it “has not had a chance to review” the letter but would respond “in a timely manner.”
We need to get to Mars, and we have to get there by 2033. At least, that’s what Norm Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, Mark Kelly, former NASA astronaut, and Scott Hubbard, former director of the NASA Ames Research Center, think.
“With great pride and confidence, our new President and Congress should commit together to NASA sending Americans to Mars by 2033—a realistic goal consistent with the demands of both rocket science and political science,” a recent article by Wired states.
The article cites three clear and simple reasons why the U.S. needs to get to Mars so quickly. The first reason is for science. With the recent discoveries about Mars, especially the existence of water and the possibility of microbial life, the article states that getting there “offers the chance to help answer a fundamental question: ‘Are we alone?’” The second reason is more practical, as “a national push to go to Mars would require new technologies, goods, and services that would yield an enormous return on investment to our economy. With such an effort, the American space program could generate considerable economic activity and create many US-based jobs.”
Now, 2033 isn’t an arbitrary date. It is an estimate that has been calculated based on current progress. Getting to Mars is, predictably, technologically and logistically taxing. But, thankfully, it’s a team effort between NASA and multiple private space companies, notably SpaceX.
The dream of sending people to Mars is alive. We need to make the program and strategy to do it a reality. The alternative is to give up, to take our players off the field, to concede the human exploration space frontier to other countries, and thereby guarantee defeat. […]
The big question before us and our leaders in Washington is whether we will make the investments and develop the plan we need to ensure that budding explorer and soon-to-be pioneer is an American.
In past years, the government hasn’t been remiss in ensuring the success of US space exploration efforts. Last December 2016, U.S lawmakers passed a bill for NASA’s budget for fiscal year 2017. “Today, NASA’s budget is 0.5 percent of the federal budget; the agency receives about $19 billion per year, of which about $8 billion is spent on human space flight,” according to the wired article.
The dream to reach Mars isn’t as far off as it had been when it was first conceived in the 1960s. And thanks to efforts from both the public and private sectors, we may actually get there by the hopeful year of 2033. Augustine, Kelly, and Hubbard are keeping their fingers crossed: “We hope the world will watch us be the first to send Americans to Mars and bring them home safely.”
A few minutes after SpaceX launched one if its self-landing Falcon 9 rockets on June 28, 2015, it exploded into a rain of debris over the Atlantic Ocean.
NASA had a bunch of cargo riding on top of the rocket, and it tallied its losses at about $112 million. Meanwhile, SpaceX — founded by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk — lost tens of millions it had invested in the launch itself.
“The company lost $260 million in 2015 when one of its Falcon 9 rockets, carrying two tons of cargo to the international space station, exploded shortly after liftoff,” writers Rolfe Winkler and Andy Pasztor reported for The Journal.
The financial hit was so hard because of launch delays. SpaceX did an internal investigation and made changes to its rocket fleet and operations. It wouldn’t launch again until December 2015 — when it landed its first Falcon 9 booster on a launch pad — missing out on six of 12 planned launches.
It’s unclear how much that colossal revenue loss hurt operating income. Not launching six planned missions certainly beat down profits, but it’s also very expensive to build, certify, fuel up, and launch a rocket — so SpaceX likely did not have to front most of those expenses.
However, they did have to keep paying salaries, leases, and other business expenses, and at a time of rapid growth.
It’s akin to a fast-growing Florida orange-trucking company having a major accident and not making deliveries for about 6 months. Faced with that delay, they would either have to delay buying new orange trucks or just take a loss and maintain their truck buying. Meanwhile, the company has hired more staff and taken on other expenses to accommodate its projected growth, which further eats away at their bottom line.
Like all analogies, it’s an imperfect one that doesn’t factor in the high cost of launching rockets, insurance claims, industry repercussions, and so on. But that’s the rough financial snapshot of SpaceX in 2015.
However, the company has since suffered another major setback.
The incident put off a dozen launches planned for 2016, possibly amounting to more than $740 million in revenue losses for the year.
SpaceX reportedly told The Journal it currently “has over $1 billion of cash and no debt” and, as company representatives have previously told Business Insider, 70 planned launches that amount to roughly $10 billion in projected revenue.
Sometime on or soon after January 30, 2017, SpaceX will deliver an EchoStar satellite into space aboard a Falcon 9 rocket that’s the last of its kind. With this launch, SpaceX will be saying goodbye to its last disposable rocket, as founder and CEO Elon Musk announced via a tweet. The company’s future big-payload launches will either be using a Falcon 9 Block 5 or a Falcon Heavy.
SpaceX’s commitment to reusable rockets has long been established, with enough successful flights to demonstrate their Falcon 9’s landing capabilities. This next launch, however, uses an expendable rocket owing to its heavy load — the satellite it will be carrying weighs about 5.5 metric tons. There wouldn’t be enough fuel left for a landing as the rocket would burn too much during its first stage.
To date, SpaceX hasn’t actually reused any of its rockets, unlike Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which has already reused a rocket multiple times. However, the company plans to reuse a rocket for its February 2017 launch of an SES-10 communications satellite into orbit.
We’re just at the beginning of an era of renewable rockets, so to speak. It will take time, of course, to fully transition, but once these become the norm, they will save companies a lot of money. Ars Technica believes that SpaceX will reach full reusability only with the Falcon 9 Block 5, and according to Musk, the new Falcon should be ready for liftoff by the end of 2017.
Today, SpaceX managed to successfully launch and land Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base to deliver a payload of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into low-Earth orbit.
This is the first batch of 81 satellites intended to upgrade the communication company’s global communication network.
It also marks the rocket’s first launch since its accident in September, which destroyed the rocket’s booster and satellite payload; and SpaceX’s first successful attempt at landing a booster in the Pacific Ocean.
How the September explosion has affected SpaceX’s bottom line is unclear. The accident, however, has led to launch delays, with the company only being able to send half of its originally planned 12 missions in 2016. Even today’s launch was bogged down by delays, albeit minor. Originally slated for January 8, the company missed their target date by a few days. Regardless, given the damage Falcon 9 sustained in the September explosion, the time frame which it took to get the rocket up and running again is unprecedented, which should lend itself to clients regaining confidence in the company.
You can watch the entire launch here:
Perhaps even more relevant than the rocket’s return to flight was that SpaceX was able to recover the rocket safely, with the Falcon 9 landing on the drone ship, “Just Read the Instructions.”
The success of SpaceX’s latest launch brings the total of their recovered rockets to seven. While the number isn’t entirely impressive, continued success in landing these rockets marks a possibility of bringing down the cost of spaceflight.
The possibility of reusing rockets means companies no longer have to build a new one for every mission. This significantly brings down manufacturing costs and could make space travel more affordable, which is important given that private companies, such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Masten, are gunning to make commercial spaceflight a reality.
The returns on their investment, however, will only be reaped if rockets can be reused as frequently as possible–and barring any more unfortunate accidents, it looks like we are well on our way.
The transition from one year to the next is always a little uncertain – an uneasy blend of anxiety and optimism, it’s also a time of retrospection, introspection, and even a little tentative prognostication. And since the latter is our stock-in-trade at Futurism, we believe now is the perfect time to look ahead at what 2017 has in store for us.
And 2017, we feel pretty confident in predicting, will be even better. So, in that spirit, here’s a sample of what we think will be some of the most exciting headlines in space for the coming year.
LIGO and Virgo Join Forces
Gravitational wave astronomy had a pretty good year in 2016, no doubt about it. In fact, it was Year One for that fledgling science, but now it’s time to begin the systematization of the field and look to refine the instruments and hone their precision. 2017 will be the year that the LIGO telescopes in Washington and Louisiana are joined by the European Virgo interferometer in Italy, which will finally allow astronomers to triangulate the gravitational wave signals they’re detecting.
With luck, sometime in the coming year, we’ll finally pinpoint the location of the colliding black holes whose swan song we’ve been hearing in the ripples of spacetime; and by coordinating with space telescopes, we might even succeed in glimpsing a visual counterpart to the phenomenon.
Private Spaceflight Takes Off
Okay, maybe this one’s a little obvious — especially considering the enormous strides that the billionaire rocket-boys are yearly making. Still, it bears repeating…no, it bears shouting from the rooftops: every new advance in private spaceflight brings us closer to one of those great societal “phase transitions” — a new economy, a new paradigm, a whole new history.
Virgin Galactic is still looking to get back in the game after its SpaceShipTwo fatally broke apart over the Mojave Desert in 2014; and one of its other ventures, a commercial supersonic transporter, is slated to begin prototype testing in late 2017. Meanwhile, Bezos’ Blue Origin is still on track to begin launching test astronauts before the year’s end. And that’s a big deal, folks, because it would mean the private space companies have graduated from launching inert payloads of expensive electronics to finally lofting delicate packages of fragile human flesh — perhaps the most expensive resource we have.
So let’s hope 2017 isn’t just another year of remarkable firsts in private spaceflight. Let’s hope it marks a turning point in human history.
But SpaceX is set to blast into 2017 on Sunday with its first launch since the September disaster. Look for more milestones in the year ahead—from the long-awaited maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy, to test flights of its crew capsule (including a manned mission?—hey, we can dream), to further updates on Musk’s marvelous Martian stratagem.
The Red Planet has never felt closer than it does today; and nowadays it seems the world turns on Elon Musk’s dreams. So a healthy, pioneering SpaceX is something we can all root for.
The End of an Era
It seems that 2017 will also be the year we bid goodbye to the steadfast Cassini, whose Saturnian sojourn will finally come to an end when the probe plummets into the Ringed Planet’s atmosphere — a spectacular farewell salute to its longtime host. That day in the middle of September will be bittersweet — a sad but necessary conclusion to a two-decade mission that provided us with a wealth of discoveries, magnificent images, and forever changed our understanding of the Solar System.
The splendid little spacecraft will continue doing science up to the very end — spending some months swinging between Saturn and its mighty rings, and snapping pictures throughout its suicidal plunge into the great planet’s atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the launch of NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) by year’s end will further expand our understanding of the universe. Like its predecessor, the fruitful Kepler Telescope, TESS will use the transiting method to seek out new worlds, and…well, if we’re lucky, maybe new civilizations too. And don’t forget Juno, whose science mission at mighty Jupiter will really begin in 2017.
We’ve only picked out some of the most exciting potential trends and developments in space in 2017, extrapolating from last year and relying (perhaps overmuch) on the forecasts of private space companies and national space agencies.
But our greatest hopes for the new year lie in the unexpected—those new discoveries we just can’t predict, like the detection of GW150914, or the discovery of Proxima Centauri b, or finding the potentially habitable worlds of TRAPPIST-1.
So stay tuned to Futurism—it’s going to be an exciting year!
Read the rest of our series on the science and tech of 2017:
SpaceX has been grounded—literally—since its September 2016 Falcon 9 rocket explosion. For some time, the California space venture company owned by Elon Musk has been trying to make it back to the launch pad. After a long period of investigation, and a series of alterations in both practices and technologies used, SpaceX is going to return to flight this coming week, as confirmed by the launch license it has just received from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The FAA has reviewed and approved SpaceX’s findings regarding the September explosion, according to a statement made on January 6th by FAA spokesman Hank Price.
“The FAA accepted the investigation report on the Amos-6 mishap and has closed the investigation,” Price said. “SpaceX applied for a license to launch the Iridium Next satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The FAA has granted a license for that purpose.”
The license SpaceX received is valid until January 2019, which makes it enough to cover all seven planned launches with Iridium NEXT. Last week, the payload of ten Iridium NEXT satellites were successfully loaded onto the Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX has been confident that it would be getting clearance from the FAA since it completed its investigation report on January 2nd of this year.
Although the initial plan was for a January 9 launch at 1:22 pm ET, according to an Iridium spokesman, that date has been pushed back due to inclement weather. Still, it seems that all systems are go for launch this coming week, it’s just that the Falcon 9 rocket launch has been pushed back a few days, to January 14th at 12:54 pm ET.
The age of reusable rockets and commercial spaceflight
The advent of commercial spaceflight, which got its footing with the Commercial Space Act of 1984 and the Launch Services Purchase Act of 1990, has made it possible for companies to rely on more than NASA to send payloads into space. The recent surge in the number of private space companies was one evident result—with the likes of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Bigelow Aerospace, and even veteran Boeing jumping into the action. These private space companies are even working with NASA for some of their missions.
Of course, the other benefit of commercial spaceflight, equally obvious but perhaps more important, is how these private space companies have started to actually lead innovation and development when it comes to spaceflight and rocket technologies.
SpaceX is ushering in 2017 with a launch of several Iridium NEXT communications satellites slated for January 8. The announcement comes after the company concludes its investigation into the September Falcon 9 explosion at Cape Canaveral.
The accident investigation team worked systematically through an extensive fault tree analysis and concluded that one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank failed. Specifically, the investigation team concluded the failure was likely due to the accumulation of oxygen between the COPV liner and overwrap in a void or a buckle in the liner, leading to ignition and the subsequent failure of the COPV.
With SpaceX announcing their next launch, it can be assumed that the US Federal Aviation Administration has accepted the company’s investigation report regarding the Cape Canaveral launch.
Falcon 9’s Next Mission
SpaceX will also be addressing the vessel’s problems via short and long-term fixes that will ensure the safety of the Falcon 9, allow it to resume flight, and deliver the 10 Iridium NEXT satellites. The payload will be used to create a voice and data network for the telecommunications company.
“Iridium is pleased with SpaceX’s announcement on the results of the Sept. 1 anomaly as identified by their accident investigation team, and their plans to target a return to flight on Jan. 8 with the first Iridium Next launch,” Iridium said in a Jan. 2 statement.
Should SpaceX make their target launch date, the company’s recovery time would be unprecedented – which will definitely help to gain back confidence from clients after the accident.
The world is competing in a new space race – this time around, it’s a mad dash for Mars. SpaceX and NASA have been vocal about their plans to reach the Red Planet, but now, a new competitor is speaking up.
Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of the National Space Administration, said Beijing aims to launch its first Mars probe around 2020 to carry out orbiting and roving exploration, followed by a second mission that would include collection of surface samples from the Red Planet. The announcement was made in a press conference held early this week for the release of a policy paper that detailed China’s intent to explore deep space.
The ultimate goal is to establish China as frontrunner in the field of space exploration by 2030. By then, the country also plans to have landed on the moon – a goal they hope to achieve by 2018. Eventually, China also plans to send probes to Jupiter and its moons.
Plans to Reach The Red Planet
The original space race was defined by the United States and Russia battling for supremacy in spaceflight capability from the 1950s through the 70s. America proved to be the winner of this race when they landed on the moon in 1969. China lagged behind – the country didn’t send its first satellite into space until 1970.
While the country was a late entrant into the space race, they have effectively stamped their intent to become a serious contender in the decades since. To date, they have staged a spacewalk, sent a rover to the moon, launched a space lab, and sent five crews into space. The latter marks China as only the third country in the world (the other two being the US and Russia) to have been able to achieve this successfully.
Given all the advances in technology however, this generation’s space race is more competitive than ever, with governments going head to head with privately funded organizations. SpaceX has already announced plans to colonize Mars within the next 40 to 100 years, targeting 2025 as the year they reach the Red Planet. As far as Elon Musk, the company’s CEO is concerned, it’s no longer a question of whether we will ever reach Mars, it’s a matter of when.
NASA on the other hand, who hopes to reach Mars by 2030, has divided their plan to reach Mars into several phases: “intensive research aboard the International Space Station to complex operations in multiple staging orbits for deep-space simulations, and finally missions and home-building on Mars.”
However, NASA’s associated administrator for science, Thomas Zurburchen says that it isn’t necessarily a race. “If Elon Musk brought the [Mars] samples in the door right now I’d throw him a party out of my own money,” he said in a previous interview with Seeker.
With the U.S. Congress giving NASA the funds it needs to send manned missions to Mars, the space agency is serious about making it to our nearest neighbor. They are taking a multi-step approach, first focusing on improving human spaceflight capabilities through tests of technologies like the Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket out near the Moon.
Before it sends people to Mars, NASA has several more unmanned missions in the works. The first is InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), which is set for a 2018 launch as part of the agency’s Discovery Program to put a geophysical lander on Mars to study the planet’s interior.
Speaking of landers, NASA also plans to send a rover to the Red Planet by 2020. This Mars 2020 Rover “will carry seven carefully selected instruments to conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet,” according to NASA.
Other plans in the pipeline include a sample return mission by the second decade of the 21st century, though no concrete plans have been revealed for that just yet.
ESA’s ExoMars: Take Two
After a botched landing of its ExoMars lander earlier this year, the European Space Agency (ESA) is scheduled to have a second go at it by 2020. For the second mission, the ESA is including a rover equipped with a drill to allow for the study of Mars’ interior, as well as instruments for exobiology and geochemistry research. It will also include a Proton launcher provided by Russian space agency Roscosmos.
SpaceX isn’t the only company looking to establish a colony on Mars — Netherlands-based non-profit Mars One wants to be the first to establish a permanent human settlement on the Red Planet.
Th company’s plans include sending robotic precursor missions in 2020, 2022, and 2024, with the first settlers scheduled for launch in 2026 to land on Mars by 2027. Recently, the program had some trouble, suspending work on a couple of its robotic missions. In the meantime, Mars One continues its candidate selection process for astronauts and development of spacesuits for Mars.
Boeing Enters the Competition
The most recent company to express interest in joining the race to Mars is Boeing. The veteran rocket developer wants to beat newbie SpaceX to Mars, and both are currently working with NASA on program to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. Though a detailed plan outlining Boeing’s missions to Mars hasn’t been released yet, according to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, “I’m convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket.”
Exactly a year ago now, SpaceX made a historic first-ever orbital class Falcon 9 rocket landing. On December 21, 2015, Elon Musk’s space venture company launched 11 communications satellites to orbit, while at the same time proving that its rocket-landing technology works.
And while we’ve seen all of it in footage released by SpaceX, National Geographic takes us behind the scenes, exclusively capturing Musk’s reactions as he watched the Falcon 9’s first-stage return and successfully landing at Landing Zone 1.
Since then, SpaceX has made more space deliveries (logging a total of more than 70 in its manifest), with more to come as contracts with NASA, and 6 successful Falcon 9 landings out of 11 attempts. Of these 6 landings, the SpaceX website notes only its firsts — the first landing on December 2015, and the first ocean barge landing in April 2016. The barge is actually a droneship which SpaceX has cheekily nicknamed “Of Course I Still Love You”.
Other landings worth noting include a costly one last May 2016, when a Falcon 9 rocket sustained heavy damage due to high entry velocity — this has been the company’s “life leader for ground tests,” according to Musk.
SpaceX plans to perform its first Red Dragon landing on Mars by 2018 – but it won’t be carrying any of NASA’s science instruments. Although NASA wants to see Elon Musk’s plans to conquer the Red Planet succeed, NASA would rather make sure SpaceX can pull them off first. If for any reason the mission fails, NASA doesn’t want millions of dollars of their equipment going down with the Dragon.
“I can’t wait for it to be successful, because it opens up our opportunities to deliver important science instruments into the Mars environment,” said Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Division head, speaking at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) annual fall meeting. And until this happens, he is keeping his fingers crossed.
“Landing on Mars is hard. I want to wait this one out,” Green said.
SpaceX isn’t rushing things by targeting a 2018 landing. It’s a matter of opportunity, aiming for a once-every-26-months chance when Earth and Mars align favorably. SpaceX wants to take every launch opportunity that would present itself in the future, hopefully beginning in 2018.
And, as SpaceX very well knows by now, missions as crucial as landing on Mars require ample time to go over every single relevant detail. Researching and studying the steps is critical.
According to Plan
For its part, SpaceX has been taking all the necessary preparations and precautions to ensure the critical technologies are prepared for the Mars missions. Perhaps the most important tech that will be key for a successful landing is the Dragon capsule’s onboard SuperDraco thrusters, which are needed to perform what SpaceX calls “supersonic retropropulsion”.
NASA is providing technical support to the first Red Dragon mission in a number of areas, via an unfunded Space Act Agreement. The space agency will get something out of the deal as well: access to most of the data gathered during Dragon’s landing on Mars.
Supposedly, the Dragon will force its way through the Martian atmosphere traveling far faster than the speed of sound. The SuperDraco thrusters — not parachutes — would then act as a counter force to slow the capsule down for a manageable thud on the Red Planet’s surface This strategy has never been executed before, and NASA is all too keen on seeing it succeed.
Understandably, things at SpaceX were quite shaken up after the unfortunate explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket back in September. With the company recently stating that it had discovered the reason for the explosion, it seemed that normal operations would be able to resume. However, it looks like we’re still seeing some lingering disruption of SpaceX’s previously established plans.
In a recent NASAupdate regarding upcoming launches, it was revealed that SpaceX has pushed back the launch of the first manned mission of its Dragon capsule by about six months. In a statement to The Verge, the company explained its decision:
We are carefully assessing our designs, systems, and processes taking into account the lessons learned and corrective actions identified. Our schedule reflects the additional time needed for this assessment and implementation.
To make up for the delay, SpaceX is planning for an unmanned launch in November of 2017 to test any updates made in response to the Falcon 9 explosion. The manned mission is now set for May 2018.
Onward and Upward
As discouraging as these delays and other setbacks are, the determination of SpaceX to take the time to get it right is admirable.
Currently, the only way to transport humans to the ISS is through Russia at a very high cost (about $81 million per seat). Given the U.S.’s current relationship with the country and difficulties with the Russian ship (Soyuz), being able to deliver supplies and scientists to the ISS on our own terms is of the utmost importance.
SpaceX is working very hard to move on from that explosion of one of its Falcon 9 booster rockets last September. Before they jump into new testing, though, prudence dictates that they fully investigate what they’re calling the “anomaly,” and this week, they shared an update on that investigation and future missions.
According to the most recent update, SpaceX is finalizing their investigations on the September 1 anomaly and “are working to complete the final steps necessary to safely and reliably return to flight, now in early January with the launch of Iridium-1.” Aside from this launch, NASA has also recently awarded the company with a unique mission set in 2021.
The dedication to safety is also made very clear, allaying any concerns regarding Elon Musk’s space venture company’s practices: “This allows for additional time to close-out vehicle preparations and complete extended testing to help ensure the highest possible level of mission assurance prior to launch.”
In any case, SpaceX is back on track and ready to launch come the new year.
Many Mars missions are facing a very blunt controversy: how much is it going to cost to send people up there to study and possibly colonize the Red Planet?
A contender in the Mars space race is Mars One, a space tech organization that originates in the Netherlands. The company has two direct arms: the Dutch non-profit Mars One Foundation, and the British public company in charge of monetization, Mars One Ventures. Now, the Ventures profit arm has announced an agreement with Swiss InFin Innovative Finance AG to a shares takeover bid.
“The acquisition is now only pending approval by the board of Mars One Ventures,” the companies said in a joint announcement.
The finance takeover solidifies Mars One’s efforts to establish a permanent human settlement on the Red Planet. On the Mars One website, they discussed their reliance on corporate investments and donations as a primary funding source. The space tech company did try to gain additional funding by pitching a television reality show about the missions to and life on Mars, but this was axed by their partner production company.
To get to the Red Planet is a big dream that needs to bring in big bucks. The different companies gearing up to get us there are funded in different ways.
NASA plans to bring astronauts to Mars itself by the 2030s. It’s funded by the US government using federal revenue from income, corporate, and other taxes.
SpaceX receives most of its seed money from billionaire founder Elon Musk. It also gains much from its government subsidy, with an estimated $4.9 billion coming in for the space tech company and Musk’s electric car empire, Tesla. SpaceX has a more urgent timeline, and they plan to get millions of people up to the Martian “colonies” by 2024—just check out their new outline for a future “Mars-shot.”
Lockheed Martin, based in Maryland, is another privately-owned aerospace company with dreams of the Red Planet dancing through its head. Their Mars Base Camp, a collaboration with NASA, believes it can send astronauts to space by around 2028. It sources funds from its numerous corporate profits, together with investments.
While we’re not sure who can get us to Mars first, what’s certain is that it’s going to take a lot of money to do it.