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Private companies are launching a new space race

London, UK (The Conversation)

Oct 05, 2017

The space race between the USA and Russia started with a beep from the Sputnik satellite exactly 60 years ago (October 4, 1957) and ended with a handshake in space just 18 years later. The handshake was the start of many decades of international collaboration in space. But over the past decade there has been a huge change.

The space environment is no longer the sole preserve of government agencies. Private companies have entered the exploration domain and are propelling the sector forward more vigorously and swiftly than would be the case if left to governments alone.

It could be argued that a new space race has begun, in which private companies are competing against each other and against government organisations. But this time it is driven by a competition for customers rather than the urge to show dominance by being first to achieve a certain goal. So who are the main players and how will they change the science, technology and politics of space exploration?

Put the phrase “private space exploration” into a search engine and a wealth of links emerges. Several have titles such as: “Six private companies that could launch humans into space”, “The world’s top 10 most innovative companies in space” or “10 major players in the private sector space race”. What is immediately apparent is that practically all these companies are based in the US.

There is a big difference between building and launching satellites into low Earth orbit for telecommunications and sending crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and beyond. Private companies in several nations have been engaged in the satellite market for many years. Their contributions to the development of non-governmental space exploration has helped to lay the trail for entrepreneurs with the vision and resources to develop their own pathways to space.

Today, several companies in the US are looking very specifically at human spaceflight. The three that are perhaps furthest down the road are SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. The main goals of all three companies is to reduce the cost of access to space – mainly through reuse of launchers and spacecraft – making space accessible to people who are not specially trained astronauts. One thing these companies have in common is the private passion of their chief executives.

SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, a charismatic entrepreneur, engineer, inventor and investor. The ambition of SpaceX is “to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets”. To this end, the company has specialized in the design, manufacture and launch of rockets, providing direct competition to the United Launch Alliance (between Boeing and Lockheed Martin) that had been the contract holder of choice for launch of NASA and Department of Defense rocket launches.

Its success has been spectacular. Having developed the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft, it became the first commercial company to dock a spacecraft at the ISS in 2012. The firm now has a regular run there, carrying cargo. But so far, no astronauts. However, the Falcon Heavy is comparable to the Saturn 5 rocket that launched the Apollo astronauts, and SpaceX has designed its vehicle with a view to sending astronauts to the moon by 2018, and to Mars as early as 2023.

On September 29, Musk refined his plans, announcing the BFR project (which I like to pretend stands for Big F**king Rocket). This would replace the Falcon and Dragon spacecraft – and would not only transport cargo and explorers to the moon and Mars, but could also reduce travel times between cities on Earth. Musk calculates it could take as little as 29 minutes to fly from London to New York.

Whether the company succeeds in sending astronauts to the moon in 2018 remains to be seen. Either way, a lot could be going on then – 2018 is also the year when Blue Origin, founded in 2000 by Jeff Bezos, the technology and retail entrepreneur behind Amazon, aims to launch people to space. But its ambition is different from that of SpaceX. Blue Origin is focusing on achieving commercially available, sub-orbital human spaceflight – targeting the space tourism industry.

The company has developed a vertical launch vehicle (New Shepard, after the first American astronaut in space, Alan Shepard) that can reach the 100km altitude used to define where “space” begins. The rocket then descends back to Earth, with the engines firing towards the end of the descent, allowing the spacecraft to land vertically. Test flights with no passengers have made successful demonstrations of the technology. The trip to space and back will take about 10 minutes.

But Blue Origin has got some competition from Virgin Galactic, which describes itself as “the world’s first commercial spaceline”. Founded in 2004 by Richard Branson, also a technology and retail entrepreneur, it plans to carry six passengers at a time into sub-orbital space and give them about six minutes of weightlessness in the course of a two and a half hour flight.

The technology differs from that of SpaceX and Blue Origin in that the launch into space is not from the ground, but from a jet airplane. This mothership flies to an altitude of about 18km (about twice as high as regular aircraft fly) and releases a smaller, rocket-powered spacecraft (SpaceShip Two) which is propelled to an altitude of about 100km. The program has been delayed by technical difficulties – and then by the tragic loss of pilot Mike Alsbury, when SpaceShip Two exploded in mid-air during a test flight in 2014. No date is yet set for the first passengers to fly.

There’s also the Google Lunar XPrize competition, announced in 2007, with the tagline: “Welcome to the new space race”. The aim of the prize is to launch a robotic mission to the moon, place a lander on the surface and drive 50 meters, sending back high-quality images and video. The competition is still in progress. Five privately funded teams must launch their spacecraft to the moon by the end of 2017.

Powerful international ties

The changes are taking place against a backdrop of tried and tested international collaboration in space, which took off in earnest at the end of the space race. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the US and Russia space programs complemented each other beautifully – though perhaps not intentionally. Following the cessation of Apollo in 1975, the US space program focused its efforts on robotic exploration of the solar system.

The Voyager probes gave us amazing images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The Mariner and Viking missions to Mars led to Pathfinder, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. Messenger orbited Mercury and Magellan orbited Venus. When New Horizons launched to Pluto in 2006, it was a mission to visit the last planet left unexplored in the solar system.

Russia, on the other hand, pursued the goal of human spaceflight, with its incredibly successful Mir orbiting space station and its program of flights to transfer cosmonauts and cargo backwards and forwards to Mir. Human spaceflight in the US revived with the Space Shuttle and its mission to build and occupy the International Space Station (ISS). The list of nations that contribute to the ISS continues to grow. The shuttle program finished in 2011 and, since its successor Orion (built in collaboration with European Space Agency, ESA) is not due to come into service until at least 2023, the international community has been reliant on Russia to keep the ISS fueled and inhabited.

Today, as well as the US and Russia, there are strong, vibrant and successful space programs in Europe, Japan, India and China. The European Space Agency was established just two months before the historic handshake of 1975, following many years of independent aeronautical engineering research by individual nations. Similarly, the Chinese, Japanese and Indian space agencies can trace their heritages back to the 1960s. A number of smaller countries including the United Arab Emirates also have ambitious plans.

Of course these countries also compete against each other. There has been widespread speculation that the entry of China into the field was sufficient to introduce a fresh imperative to the US space program. China has a well-developed space program and is currently working towards having a space station in orbit around the Earth by about 2020. A prototype, Tiangong-2, has been in space for almost a year, and was occupied by two astronauts (or “taikonauts”) for a month.

China has also had three successful missions to the moon. And its next mission, Chang’e 5, due to launch towards the end of 2017, is designed to bring samples from the moon back to Earth. China also has a declared intent of landing taikonauts on the moon by 2025 – the same time frame in which the US will be testing its new Orion spacecraft in orbit around the moon.

But while there’s an element of competition, the success of the past few decades certainly shows that it is possible to collaborate in space even when tensions rise on the ground. Indeed, space exploration may even act as a buffer zone from international politics, which is surely something worth having. It will be interesting to see how a wider role in space exploration for private companies will affect such international collaborations, especially since so much of the effort is based in the USA.

Healthy competition or dangerous game?

A benefit of the entry of the private sector into space exploration has been recognition of the high-tech companies that contribute to the growth of the economy as valuable targets for investment. Indeed, a recent presentation at an international investment bank – under a heading of “Space; the next investment frontier” – declared that “investment interest has helped reduce launch costs and spur innovation across related industries, opening up a new chapter in the history of the space economy”.

One of the last engagements of Barack Obama’s presidency was to chair the Whitehouse Frontiers Conference, where space exploration was discussed as much within the context of US industry as within the drive to explore new worlds. Contributors to the conference included NASA – but overwhelmingly the speakers were from private technology and investment companies.

Perhaps it is cynical to say – but once investment starts to flow, lawyers won’t be far behind. And that is another aspect of the explosion of interest in space commerce and tourism. Laws, statutes and other regulations are necessary to govern the international nature of space exploration. At the moment, the United Nations, through its Office for Outer Space Affairs, is responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. It also oversees operation of the Outer Space Treaty, which provides a framework for the governance of space and activities that might take place. While the obvious lack of “space police” means that it cannot be practically enforced, it has never actually been violated.

The operation is designed along similar lines to the international treaties that oversee maritime activities and the exploration of Antarctica. This is the closest that there is to international legislation and, since coming into operation in 1967 with the three inaugural signatories of the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the (then) USSR, the treaty has been signed by 106 countries (including China and North Korea). It is necessary to have such controls because although the risks that surround space exploration are high, potential rewards are even higher.

If we look at the way more conventional businesses operate, such as supermarkets, competition drives prices down, and there is little reason to believe that competition between space companies would follow a different model. In which case, greater risks might be taken in order to increase profitability. There is no evidence for this so far – but as the field develops and additional private companies move into space exploration – there will be a higher probability of accident or emergency.

The treaty says that a state launching a probe or satellite is liable to pay compensation for damage when accidents occur. However, the costs of space exploration are astronomical and crippling to poorer countries, making them increasingly depend on commercial launchers. But if a private company launches an object that subsequently causes damage in space, the struggling economy will have to pick up the bill. The treaty may therefore need to be updated to make private companies more liable. There are also serious issues around the safety of astronauts, who have the legal right to a safe existence when in outer space. But even lawyers aren’t sure whether the law does – or should – extend to private astronauts.

Looking to the future, there will be a need for an expanded version of a Civil Aviation Authority, directing and controlling routes, launches and landings on Earth, and between and on planetary bodies. All the safety and security considerations of air and sea travel will pertain to space travel at a vastly enhanced level, because the costs and risks are so much higher.

There will have to be firm and well-understood protocols in the event of a spacecraft crashing, or two spacecraft colliding. Not to mention piracy or the possibility of hijack. All this might sound a little gloomy, taking the dash and exhilaration from space exploration, but it will be a necessary development that opens up the era of space travel for citizens beyond those with deep pockets.

The original space race resulted from the ideas and skills of visionary theoretician engineers including: Robert H Goddard, Wernher von Braun, Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky… Is it too far a stretch to think that the second space race is propelled by a new generation of entrepreneurs, including Bezos, Branson and Musk? If this is the situation, then I would hope that the main enabling factor in the pursuit of space endeavors is not possession of wealth, but that vision, ingenuity and a wish for the betterment of human are the main driving forces.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Private_companies_are_launching_a_new_space_race_999.html.

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Indian Space Agency Test-Drives Solar Electric Hybrid Vehicle

New Delhi (Sputnik)

May 04, 2017

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) added another milestone to its list of achievements by successfully showcasing a solar-electric hybrid vehicle. ISRO’s different engineering branches at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram developed the vehicle.

The team working on the project developed a solar panel to fit on the roof of a car, along with an internal gearbox, control electronics for the battery and solar panel, and a conversion kit for fitting an electric motor to a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.

The vehicle was powered by ISRO’s famed Lithium-ion batteries, with a high power supercapacitor to meet the power demands to achieve required torque. ISRO also ensured to not compromise the safety while integrating various subsystems.

The vehicle was successfully test-driven, including an uphill drive. The space agency will now focus on building indigenous Lithium-ion fuel cells, supercapacitors and an electric motor.

“ISRO is doing a lot of things in addition to launching satellites. And all projects are interlinked and laying down the foundation for an industrial complex which will boost innovation and job creation. They have started sub-contracting many of their product building processes, which again will help in the growth of industries,” Dr. Mayank N. Vahia, Department of Astrophysics, at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, told Sputnik.

India is aiming to push the use of electric vehicles to tackle rising pollution in its cities with the government setting a target of 6 million electric and hybrid vehicles on the roads by 2020 under the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 and Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles.

The sales of electric vehicles in India is currently very low, rising 37.5 percent to 22,000 units in the year ended March 31, 2016, over 16,000 in 2014-15, according to the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles. Of these 22,000 vehicles, only 2,000 were cars and other four-wheelers.

The high cost of batteries, a majority of which are imported, is a major hindrance to the development of the sector. Yet another challenge is to create a network of docking stations or charging stations for electric vehicles although that is more of a demand-related problem.

“A helping hand is required to create the infrastructure… There are two concerns for electric vehicles-first is cost and second is infrastructure,” Mint quoted Abdul Majeed, partner and national auto practice leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers as saying.

The government recently asked ISRO to share its technology on Lithium-ion batteries with other public and private sector firms to give a push to the production of batteries in India and bring down the cost of electric vehicles.

Source: Solar Daily.

Link: http://www.solardaily.com/reports/Indian_Space_Agency_Test_Drives_Solar_Electric_Hybrid_Vehicle_999.html.

SpaceX cargo ship returns to Earth

Washington (AFP)

March 20, 2017

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft is scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, March 19, with more than 5,400 pounds of NASA cargo, and science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.

Everything from stem cells that could help us understand how human cancers start and spread after being exposed to near zero-gravity, to equipment that is paving the way toward servicing and refueling satellites while they’re in orbit will be on board.

After Dragon is recovered off the west coast of Baja California, some of the cargo will be removed and returned to NASA immediately while Dragon itself is prepared for a return trip to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas. There, the processing and further unloading of scientific samples and returning station hardware will continue.

A variety of technological and biological studies are returning in Dragon. The Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells investigation had crew members observe cell growth and other characteristics in microgravity.

This information will provide insight into how human cancers start and spread, which aids in the development of prevention and treatment plans. Results from this investigation could lead to the treatment of disease and injury in space, as well as provide a way to improve stem cell production for human therapy on Earth.

Samples from the Tissue Regeneration-Bone Defect study, a U.S. National Laboratory investigation sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, studied what prevents vertebrates such as rodents and humans from re-growing lost bone and tissue, and how microgravity conditions impact the process.

Results will provide a new understanding of the biological reasons behind a human’s inability to grow a lost limb at the wound site, and could lead to new treatment options for the more than 30 percent of the patient population who do not respond to current options for chronic non-healing wounds.

Several external payloads were removed from the space station and placed in the Dragon’s trunk for disposal. The Optical PAyload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) device tested the potential for using a laser to transmit data to Earth from space, indicating that high speed space to ground optical communications are possible from a fast moving spacecraft.

The Materials on International Space Station Experiment tested the radiation tolerance of a computer built from radiation-tolerant material to simulate work for a future long-term space mission.

The Robotic Refueling Mission Phase 2 tested new technologies, tools and techniques that could eventually give satellite owners resources to diagnose problems on orbit, repair failures, and keep certain spacecraft instruments performing longer in space.

The Dragon spacecraft lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 19, carrying about 5,500 pounds of supplies and scientific cargo on the company’s tenth commercial resupply mission to the station.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/SpaceX_cargo_ship_returns_to_Earth_999.html.

NASA says goodbye to a Pathfinder Earth Satellite after 17 years

by Kasha Patel for GSFC News

Greenbelt MD (SPX)

Mar 17, 2017

The first to map active lava flows from space. The first to measure a facility’s methane leak from space. The first to track re-growth in a partially logged Amazon forest from space. But now, after 17 years in orbit, one of NASA’s pathfinder Earth satellites for testing new satellite technologies and concepts comes to an end on March 30, 2017. The Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite will be powered off on that date but will not enter Earth’s atmosphere until 2056.

Launched on Nov. 21, 2000, EO-1 was designed as a technology validation mission focused on testing cutting-edge satellite and instrument technologies that could be incorporated into future missions. Commissioned as part of NASA’s New Millennium Program, the satellite was part of a series of missions that were developed at a cheaper price tag to test new technologies and concepts that had never been flown before.

“EO-1 has changed the way spectral Earth measurements are being made and used by the science community,” said Betsy Middleton, EO-1’s Project Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

EO-1 was launched with 13 new technologies, including three new instruments. EO-1’s most important technology goal was to validate the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) for future Earth-observing satellites. The ALI provided a variety of Earth data including observations of forest cover, crops, coastal waters and aerosols. The ALI’s instrument design and onboard technology directly shaped the design of the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8, currently in orbit.

EO-1’s other key instrument is a hyperspectral instrument called Hyperion that allows scientists to see chemical constituents of Earth’s surface in fine detail with hundreds of wavelengths. These data allow scientists to identify specific minerals, track vegetation type and vigor of forests and monitor volcanic activity.

The knowledge acquired and technology developed from Hyperion is being incorporated into a NASA concept for a potential future hyperspectral satellite, the Hyperspectral Infrared Imager, that will study the world’s ecosystems, such as identifying different types of plants and assessing wildfires and droughts.

With both of these instruments, the EO-1 team was able to acquire images with high spatial resolution of events and natural disasters around the world for anyone who requested it.

The EO-1 team could point the instruments at any specific location and gather images every two to five days of a particular spot, which was very useful for scientists as well as disaster relief managers trying to stay informed of rapidly changing events. (Landsat typically looks at the same area once every 16 days.) EO-1 captured scenes such as the ash after the World Trade Center attacks, the flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, volcanic eruptions and a large methane leak in southern California.

EO-1 also served as a valuable pathfinder for a variety of space technologies. Technologists installed and tested autonomy software on EO-1 that allowed the satellite to make its own decisions based on the content of the data it collected.

For instance, if a scientist instructed EO-1 to take a picture of an area where a volcano was currently erupting, the software could decide to automatically take a follow-up image the next time it passed over the location.

The mission also validated software that allowed “formation flying” that kept EO-1 orbiting Earth exactly one minute behind the Landsat-7 satellite, already in orbit. The original purpose was to validate the new ALI technologies for use in Landsat 8, which was accomplished.

EO-1 was originally only supposed to last one year, but after that initial mission, the satellite had no major issues or breakdowns. On a shoestring budget contributed by NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Reconnaissance Office and Naval Research Laboratory, the satellite continued to operate for sixteen more years, resulting in more than 1,500 papers published on EO-1 research.

On March 30, 2017, the satellite will be decommissioned, drained of its energy and become inert. Without enough fuel to keep EO-1 in its current orbit, the mission team will shut down the satellite and wait for it to return to Earth. When EO-1 does reenter the earth’s atmosphere in about 39 years, it is estimated that all the components will burn up in the atmosphere.

“We’ll probably just see EO-1 as a streak in the sky as it disintegrates,” said Middleton.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/NASA_says_goodbye_to_a_Pathfinder_Earth_Satellite_after_17_years_999.html.

NASA finds missing LRO, Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiters

Washington (UPI)

Mar 10, 2017

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said it has located its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft after disappearing for years.

JPL said scientists found the spacecrafts orbiting the moon by using a new technological application found on ground-based interplanetary radar.

“Finding LRO was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission’s navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located,” Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at JPL, said in a statement. “Finding India’s Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009.”

The Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1, which is a five-foot cube, launched on October 22, 2008, and NASA’s LRO launched on June 18, 2009.

JPL, which is located in the California Institute of Technology, said scientists found Chandrayaan-1 about 124 miles above the moon’s surface, but the spacecraft is considered lost. The spacecraft is more than 230,000 miles away.

To find the spacecraft, JPL used the 230-foot antenna in NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California to send out a powerful beam of microwaves toward the moon. Radar echoes then bounced back from the moon’s orbit and were received by the 330-foot Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is operated by the National Science Foundation with NASA funding, and has the most powerful astronomical radar system on Earth, conducted follow-up observations.

“Hunting down LRO and rediscovering Chandrayaan-1 have provided the start for a unique new capability. Working together, the large radar antennas at Goldstone, Arecibo and Green Bank demonstrated that they can detect and track even small spacecraft in lunar orbit,” JPL said in a statement. “Ground-based radars could possibly play a part in future robotic and human missions to the moon, both for a collisional hazard assessment tool and as a safety mechanism for spacecraft that encounter navigation or communication issues.”

Source: Moon Daily.

Link: http://www.moondaily.com/reports/NASA_finds_missing_LRO_Chandrayaan-1_lunar_orbiters_999.html.

Turkey Moves Closer to Launching Own Space Agency

Moscow (Sputnik)

Mar 03, 2017

Turkey is close to starting its own version of NASA, as a draft bill for legislation to create a Turkish Space Agency is finalized and readied for review by the Turkish parliament. Turkey is coming closer to finalizing its long-envisioned dream to establish its own space agency, to determine the country’s space policies and help develop a national space industry. A bill draft to define basic principles has been sent to the Turkish parliament. The bill is expected to pass without debate.

According to Defense News, the bill defines the mission of a Turkish Space Agency as “reducing dependence on foreign technology, coordinating work for space platforms, launching facilities and systems, and helping develop, integrate, launch, monitor and operate aerospace systems.”

The agency will unite efforts of various Turkish ministries, with ministers of science, industry and technology; as well as those of development; defense; transport; maritime, and communications, all included in the executive board, chaired by the Turkish prime minister.

The agency will reportedly combine the experience of similar institutions in the United States (NASA), Japan, Germany and France.

According to Anadolu news agency, the idea of creating a Turkish Space Agency came onto the agenda for the first time in 2014 after Turkey’s transport minister said that the government was preparing legislation to present to the Council of Ministers. Later, it was included in a government action plan in December 2015.

Reports suggest that Turkey is seeking to alleviate its dependence on foreign nations in spacecraft construction. Its latest satellite Gokturk-1, was proudly announced as “20 percent Turkish,” thanks to the $112 million Space Systems Integration and Test Center, an assembly facility that reportedly allows simultaneous construction and testing of more than one satellite of up to five tons. The country plans to build its first completely indigenous spacecraft by 2019.

Turkey also seeks to build its own satellite launch facility. Two possible locations for the launchpad are Datca, on Turkey’s southwestern coast, and the partially-recognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. According to Defense News, players in the Turkish satellite programs are Aselsan, Turkey’s biggest defense firm; Tubitak Uzay, the state scientific research space department; Turkish Aerospace Industries, and CTech, a software company.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Turkey_Moves_Closer_to_Launching_Own_Space_Agency_999.html.

SpaceX to Fly Two Tourists to the Moon in 2018

Mar. 01, 2017

Private space exploration company SpaceX has announced its most ambitious mission yet—a plan to orbit the moon in 2018.

The company headed by scientific and tech mind Elon Musk claims that their mission is on-target, including having recruited two astronauts that have elected—and paid a hefty chunk of change—to have the privilege of going into space.

If everything goes as planned, the two space tourists would launch in late 2018 in a Dragon 2 capsule launched by SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. They would float past the moon before being pulled back in by gravity and returned to the Earth’s surface.

If SpaceX is successful in their venture, the two volunteers will be the first of humanity to take the trip in more than 40 years. Since the successful trips around and on the moon more than 40 years ago, no man (or woman) has made it anywhere close to the big cheese in the sky—mostly due to the fact that scientists felt they had gathered enough information and could not justify another expensive and dangerous trip around the moon just for the sake of doing it.

Still, SpaceX clearly has something to prove and taking a trip around our small orbiting crater is an important next step. SpaceX has announced plans in the past to take humanity all the way to Mars in the next few years, so this trip will be considered a vital prerequisite for that ambitious project.

Meanwhile, some are skeptical that SpaceX is attempting too much too soon.

Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, said in the New York Times:

“It strikes me as risky. I find it extraordinary that these sorts of announcements are being made when SpaceX has yet to get crew from the ground to low-Earth orbit.”

While the tourists would be trained, they would mostly be relying on automated systems during their trip, meaning that they would have nowhere near the survival training that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronauts experience. If something were to go wrong, they wouldn’t be much help in saving themselves or their spacecraft.

This new venture of private companies tackling the space race is a test for the government and society. If SpaceX can prove its worth by safely transporting these tourists and returning them back home, safe and sound, it will go a long way in proving that the private tech and space company has what it takes to get us to Mars.

Source: EcoWatch.

Link: http://www.ecowatch.com/spacex-orbit-moon-2292971632.html.

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