And now another Elon “The Douchebag” Musk USA Goverment Sponsored Program; the sales pitch of the Century..!
5/28/2013 @ 9:24AM |6,857 views
With the NASA on Russia for rides to the International Space Station (ISS) at $70.7m a seat until 2017 at the earliest, advocates of space exploration are increasingly looking to the private sector for their jetpack, moonwalk, rocket-powered future.
NASA’s designs for the Space Launch System and the Orion capsule could play an important part in future space exploration but they have yet to take flight. Meanwhile for-profit companies are busy launching, designing and, yes, dreaming about humanity’s future in space.
Richard Branson’s VirginGalactic is currently testing its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle that may make its first commercial flight from Abu Dhabi on Christmas Day this year. Celebrities who have bought $200,000+ tickets to for the first flight include Ashton Kutcher, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Less well known, is the company’s LauncherOne, a revolutionary reusable launcher. Launched from The Spaceship Company’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane at 50,000 feet, it could deliver 500lb payloads to low Earth orbit at a much lower cost than traditional launch options.
All the way to orbit
The company is developing a human-rated version with a view to ferrying astronauts to Earth orbit (and beyond). SpaceX is working on reusable rockets with its Grasshopper test bed – it can blast off and then land back at the Launchpad vertically ready for reuse.
SpaceX and VirginGalactic aren’t the only horses in the new commercial space race. It’s a crowded field. Close on SpaceX’s heels, Orbital Sciences launched their first Antares rocket on April 21 and their next mission will pave the way for delivery of cargo to the ISS.
Boeing is developing a manned capsule, prosaically named the CST-100.
Lastly, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is heading up a company called Blue Origin that is working, somewhat secretively, on rocket-powered vertical take-off and landing vehicles for suborbital and orbital missions.
Commercial moon missions
Space Adventures, the company behind several space tourist trips on Russian Soyuz vehicles, has proposed a mission that would take a single private lunar explorer and a professional astronaut on a trip round the moon, echoing the 1968 Apollo 8 mission. It would use tried-and-tested Russian hardware but would not allow an actual landing on the moon.
Private space stations and moon bases
Bigelow Aerospace licensed NASA designs for inflatable space station modules (they prefer the term ‘expandable habitats’). They have launched two prototypes and they’re hoping to add one of their modules to the ISS. They’re event working on designs that can be landed on the Moon (see picture).
All the way to Mars?
Perhaps the most ambitious of all commercial space mission concepts is a trip to Mars. Space X’s founder Elon Musk has announced that he wants to die on Mars, adding ‘but not on impact’. His company’s Falcon Heavy rocket, currently in development, could be powerful enough to lift the components of a Mars mission into orbit. Even with a 53,000kg payload, it would take multiple launches per mission.
Mars is a very long way away. It makes a trip to the moon look like a walk around the corner in your slippers compared to a trip to New Zealand. VASIMIR engine technology, developed by Ad Astra Rocket from initial NASA research, could cut the journey down to a few months rather than several years. Admittedly, the proposed vehicle looks like something out of 2001 A Space Odyssey but Ad Astra shows that innovative science doesn’t always require government hand-outs.
If you don’t want to wait for a nuclear-fuelled, plasma-driven space cruiser to take you to Mars, the Inspiration Mars Foundation is dreaming on a smaller scale with plans for a round-trip to the red planet in just 501 days in 2018 using existing hardware. No landing but what an adventure!
Ready for launch?
Even if you can’t afford your own private space program or a ticket to Mars, you can get your own launch pad. NASA is offering Launch Complex 39A for lease. Originally built for the Apollo moon missions and refurbished for use by the Space Shuttle, it is now surplus to requirements.
Perhaps NASA’s future is a list of amazing accomplishments, a ton of know-how and a list of unfulfilled dreams. Like Pad 39A, it’s magnificent but non-operational. Personally, I’d prefer to see a reinvigorated NASA pursue challenging goals with proper funding. But if it’s going to be grounded by politics, then perhaps it’s time to mothball it and let business fly instead.