We are experiencing another Space Race nearly 50 years after the first to the moon. However, this space race isn’t fought by nations, and the final destination is not the lunar surface. This time, the competitors are billionaire masterminds right here in here U.S racing to be the first to commercialize space travel. The most prominent of these billionaires being Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson. So what does this new age space race mean for us? Will it affect our daily lives? What will it mean for our future?
Let’s get into the race a bit more, the three largest companies involved are SpaceX (Musk), Blue Origin (Bezos), and Virgin Galactic (Bronson). SpaceX is possibly the most popular among these companies as they’ve successfully showcased their engineering skills and accomplished incredible feats in the past few years. The largest success that SpaceX has experienced is with their reusable Falcon 9 Rocket Booster. In 2016, the first ever reusable rocket booster made a successful landing in April onboard a ship off the Florida coast. On December 21, 2015, the first land-based landing was successfully executed at Cape Canaveral.
Another great success by SpaceX was their development of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Up until the Falcon Heavy, the largest and most powerful rocket ever created was the Saturn V, the very rocket that took man to the moon. In February of 2018, the first Falcon Heavy lifted off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, thrusted skyward by it’s 27 Merlin 1D engines creating more than 5 million pounds of thrust, (equivalent to 18 Boeing 747 aircraft at full throttle). Shortly after takeoff, the rocket’s main boosters jettison from the aircraft, free falling towards the Earth. During this free fall, the booster’s internal guidance system control a series of grid-iron fins on the side of the fuselage to maneuver itself into a steady upright attitude. Then, once closer to the surface, the engines fire off again to slow the descent of each booster, resulting in a soft, simultaneous touchdown of each booster back at the Cape. After that the center booster will keep firing until stage separation and the payload is set on a course for orbit. Thee center booster then lands on a drone ship in the middle of the ocean.
Since then, SpaceX has signed multiple contracts with both NASA and the U.S. Air Force to launch satellites into orbit including the AFSPC-44 for the USAF along with NROL-85 and NORL-87. SpaceX has teamed up with NASA to perform it’s commercial spaceflight testing. On March 2, 2019, SpaceX flew it’s Crew Dragon Spacecraft for the first time. The fully autonomous space capsule entered orbit, docked with the ISS, undocked, went into orbit again, and then splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean on March 8th. The Crew Dragon Capsule is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and will be taking astronauts to the ISS on a regular basis in the very near future.
Another company paving it’s way to commercial space travel is Blue Origin. Having similar success to SpaceX, Blue Origin launched and laned the first reusable rocket, New Shepard, on November 23, 2015. They then proceeded to make history once again on January 22nd, 2-15 by launching the first ever reused rocket from the previous mission.
- “Air Force Awards $739 Million in Launch Contracts to ULA and SpaceX.” SpaceNews.com, 20 Feb. 2019, spacenews.com/air-force-awards-739-million-in-launch-contracts-to-ula-and-spacex/.
- “SpaceX.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceX.