Space Economy

With the advent of an era of the privatization of space exploration, we have seen a plethora of new startups over the last decade. These startups not only represent a new field of space but also new fields within space. The extent of the variety of the new actors in the new field is epitomized by such industries in space as asteroid mining, space tourism, space networking, space habitats to name a few. Many of the space projects that only the governments used to handle in the past are now under the public domain.

One such company in the field of space network is Audacy which aims to do similar job as NASA’s TDRS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellites). TDRS is a communications satellite and is one of the components of NASA’s Space Network Program. These satellites which are placed at geosynchronous orbit work in conjunction with two ground stations; thus relying less on ground stations and providing continuous coverage. According to the CEO of Audacy, Ralph Ewig, ‘In the simplest sense, you can think of us as a cell phone company for space. So we are literally like a cell phone network except that our users are people that own and operate objects in space rather than phones on the ground.’ The key difference between TDRS and Audacy is that the Audacy will be placed at medium Earth orbit while the TDRS operates at geosynchronous orbit. Thus it will enable to serve little satellites like cubesats and thousands of satellites simultaneously.

What fascinates me about space industries is the emergence of companies like these that can potentially alter the world economy. Imagine how much new business opportunities and job opportunities that lie in store for humanity to take advantage of. Suddenly with the opening of new doors in space we have resources not only here on Earth but the whole sky for exploitation. Not only does it have the potential to support the economy here on Earth but it is well on its course to develop a self-sustaining economy of its own. Take for example the plan of United Launch Alliance (ULA) in partnership with Bigelow Aerospace to build a self-sustaining space economy within the next 30 years. Dubbed ‘cislunar 1000’, the project forsees humans living and working between the Earth and the Moon. It envisions a number of milestones in space exploration like refuelling through propellants from the moon, mining the moon and asteroids and space tourism. The idea sounds fantastic! Doesn’t it?

In conclusion, it looks like we are heading towards three kinds of economies in the near future—the Earth economy, the Cislunar economy and the Mars economy! We in the 21st century must consider ourselves fortunate that our generation is being witness to this transition.

The New Moon Race

 

SpaceX’s announcement to send two humans to the moon by the end of 2018 has come about as a surprise to most. The company which had originally been established with the purpose of establishing a permanent base for humans on Mars is now also aiming to go to the moon. What might have caused this sudden change? Is the company responding to its competitors?

Well, as it turns out, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin does have similar ambitious plans as that of SpaceX. With the gradual development of their ambitious launch vehicles like New Shephard, New Glenn and now New Armstrong (though still in drawing board), Blue Origin is fast catching up with SpaceX. New Shephard, designed to make suborbital flight, is named after the late astronaut Allan Shephard who became the first American to make the suborbital flight. Similarly, New Glenn, designed to make orbital flight, is named after John Glenn who became the first American to make the orbital flight. With their third launch vehicle being named New Armstrong one can easily see where this is going.

Add to this NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot’s recent request to associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Bill Gerstenmaier to initiate a study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to exploration Mission-1. There is definitely a new moon race going on and this announcement by SpaceX is probably in response to this threat that they sense. The mission is supposed to be accomplished by the end of 2018 which is not a very long time period from now. However, is the technology good enough?

The company has plans to send their Dragon V2 capsule to international space station by the middle of 2018. Hopefully, this mission is successful otherwise the moon mission may be delayed as is so common in the space launches. Musk has stated that the mission will take a little more than one week which suggests that this will be a swing around the moon and return to Earth with no time to spend in the orbit. Moreover, unlike the Orion Space Capsule, the Dragon V2 does not have service module which further limits their extended stay around the moon orbit.

Analogous to the space race between USA and USSR in the 60s and 70s its going to be exciting how the current moon race between the private corporations is going to unfold in the coming years. Let’s hope this race continues further after Moon to Mars and other parts of the solar system.