So I was having a random browse of the Virgin Galactic website earlier and had a sudden attack of awe-inspired shock. Intellectually, I knew what was chugging along in the background of Mr Branson’s company, but it suddenly hit home that there is a website out there where you can buy a ticket to go to space.
And I know they’re not the only people with those ambitions - such as the ideas that Reaction Engines are putting forward for SSTO craft.
We really are living through the birth of commercial space flight. It really is happening. It really is like living in science-fiction (much of which, when it was written, could only fantasise about this sort of thing).
Not only this, but I hear rumours that the race to Mars may be hotting up, with some other countries such as China and India wanting to have a shot at it.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel excited that this is going on. Even if I never make it to space myself (which I would love to do), I will at least be able to say I saw the first steps that took spaceflight out of the hands of governments and the exclusive few. I’m not belittling astronauts, I have a profound admiration for what they do, but we know we’re living in the future when you don’t have to base your entire career around getting to orbit.
So: what are your thoughts on current projects? Where is it likely to go in the future?
I thought this might be a nice general spacey topic for those of us who are enthusiastic about such things to pool our thoughts.
I fear that space tourism will be little more than a fad, paying a few zeros to get suborbital flight, and one or two more for a week in freefall with a nice view. But it’s the kind of fad that can help developing a bigger and cheaper space industry, so not a bad thing.
OTOH, Elron Musk did shake the space industry enough to force them to rethink their industrial processes - put into place decades ago when money was flowing, they have many, many subcontractors which make things more expensive. For example, Arianespace is planning for some serious changes.
IIRC, Skylon caught the interest of the ESA, which is now financing it. While the old SF dream of a suborbital plane now seems more accessible, it may stay too expensive for most commercial flights for a long time. Can it be a real, reusable spaceplane? I hope so, but they said the same about the shuttle…
For Mars, I seriously doubt we’ll see someone there in the next few decades. Hell, I doubt we’ll see someone back on the mood in a few decades. But more missions, including some sample return? Hell, there are plans for returning samples from Venus around. With cheaper LEO, and hopefully progress in robotics, computers, materials and such (and NASA producing plutonium for RTG again), I hope to see (even) more and bigger robotic missions than before. Don’t let their lack of romantic, bold explorers of new worlds, those can bring awesome science (and images) back.
But seeing a development of manned space? Not before big asteroid-based industry and/or a space elevator, whichever comes first, and I seriously doubt wel’ll see that before fifty years. Even if LEO becomes cheaper, it’s still only half-way to anywhere, and there isn’t enough for people to do there.
I think they’re a necessary first step, but ultimately they will go nowhere. We’re talking about commercial ventures that are little more than roller coasters. These are novelty acts; mere shadows of what people dream of.
I don’t see commercial space flight being viable in the long term until the destination is different from the port of origin, and that is a long, long way off for commercial projects.
When it comes to space, there’s always going to be differences of opinion between dreamers and everyone else. I fully admit I sit more in the dreamer-camp, but I’m also a realist. I know the things going on currently are mostly very expensive publicity stunts with little practical value.
But then, there’s the same argument in science: do we research stuff purely for interest, or to gain a solution to a specific problem? I am all for going to space just because it’s there, for the fun of it.
If we think about it, in the last 40 years we’ve gone from Saturn Vs to prototype commercial spaceplanes. There are probably computer chips in Spaceship Two that have more processing power than the entire old LEMs. The advances in computer technology have no doubt played a huge part in the leap of design and efficiency. However, it seems to me it’s the dreamers (with lots of money and/or a smart idea) who get these things done. Capitalism will likely follow in their wake if they prove there’s a profit to be made from this - and that is what will sustain it (if it happens).
It all depends on how quickly these “skylon” and the reusable Spacex falcons are launched. Cutting the cost of sending stuff into space by a factor of 10 could really kick off space turism. I for example would much rather go to space for a couple of hours than having a month long trip through other countries.
As long as the cost is high, space travel will continue to be, in its majority, a science experiment.
edit: Wow, haven’t seen this one before. Its beautiful.
People don’t go to the moon because its too expensive to get there, not because they can’t claim the land. If the means to get there in an affordable manner existed, whatever laws that had to be created would eventually be created.
Selling acres of land to fund the technology to reduce this price makes no sense when you realize that a lunar base is far from needing any more space than a square km. Maybe in the future this will make sense, but right now, its like putting the cart a few hundred kms ahead of the horses.
But I wonder… if a company like SpaceX simply launched a rocket and landed anything on the moon… Who could stop them? What legislation in the world says they cant touch/alter/build on the moon?
Its not like the US can arrest them for trespassing.
Xcor Aerospace also does it. http://www.xcor.com/ There’s a few other companies who are into it (Blue Origin, Masten and Bigelow i think?).
What will happen, i predict, is that SpaceX will send a sattelite to Mars and everyone is gonna be excited about it. Then they send another spacecraft that will attempt to land but will crash, the next one succeeds but is unable to lift off again and just sends a few pictures. A few years later they send a bigger ship into orbit. 2 years later they send another ship that will land and take off and return samples (first!). Suddently they get REALLY RICH cus everyone wants a contract to get samples from Mars. 6 years later a one-way trip is launched and singularity happens.
While you have solid reasoning, what I was pointing out is the fact that because governments can’t legally claim to own and sell anything in space as of yet, it hinders their desire to spends more and more money on something actually worthwhile besides wars. (Kinda poking at the United States right now.)
It’s a bit like the Antarctica case. Because no one can make a new claim to own land there, once again legally progress has hindered in that area of land in developing industries. (Although the fact that Antarctica is piratically a barren wasteland with lots of ice and snow might help.) But at least it’s not a radioactive wasteland because I bet that’s what we would be doing if it was easier to “clam” land that no one lives on to dump that crap off.
TL : DR
Legislation hinders development quite a bit regardless of what you believe. Also, many people aren’t willing to make the rich richer to get to space faster.
Edit: I keep making edits, urgh.
Also, the law only pertains towards Governments, not private organizations and whatnot. But expect a tank on your doorstep if you manage to land cheaply and start building on the moon, making your claim that it’s yours.
Back on the topic of space travel in the future. We’ll all see what the crazy mad Tesla coil fanatics come up with next.
Private property claims are backed by governments. Private entities have the same rights to celestial land claims, or lack thereof, as governments. All anyone can do in space is squat, and hope it doesn’t start a Terran war.