What do we call an area that is not limited to a single planet and has no physical boundaries? We call it the era of the emerging space resource industry. As humans, we became a spacefaring species 60 years ago when Russia launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. We are the only species to achieve this milestone in the 4.5 billion year history of the earth. Later, the space industry began to develop after World War II, as rockets and satellites later found civilian purpose.
Today, companies around the world are in transportation, energy sector, construction, hospitality, real estate, etc. and they are looking for their next growth opportunity. Space is quickly becoming a place where the industries that power our global economy have started conducting business. Future developments in the space industries include space tourism, satellite manufacturing, and the launch industry. In recent years, however, private spaceflight is becoming reality in the space industry.
Of course, these private companies also compete against each other and it could be argued that a new space race has begun. But while with an element of competition, the success of the past decades shows that is possible to collaborate in space. For example, NASA a major government agency has relied on privately operated launch services like SpaxeX for its satellite launches. The original space race began from the ideas and skills of visionary theoretical engineers like Robert. H. Goddard, Wernher von Braun, and Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky, etc. Today, space endeavors are propelled by a new generation of entrepreneurs including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Robert Branson. There are some more major players and innovative companies with the vision of space exploration and are as follows:
SpaceX- SpaceX was founded in 2002 and has reached worldwide popularity with their historic milestones in space exploration. It is already the world’s most high-profile commercial spacecraft company. The aim of SpaceX is to revolutionize the space technology, with the goal of enabling people to live on other planets. Its success has been worth appreciating. Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon Spacecraft are some of its milestones. Dragon Spacecraft has helped with regular resupply missions for NASA space stations.
Blue Origin- It was founded in 2000 by Jeff Bezos, the technological retail entrepreneur and CEO of Amazon, aims to launch people in space. It is fully reusable, vertical takeoff vertical landing (VVTL) space vehicle. Though its goal is different from that of SpaceX, it targets the Space tourism industry. It is focusing on commercially available, suborbital human spaceflight and has developed a vertical launch vehicle (new shepherd) for it. New shepherd is named after the Mercury astronaut Alan Shepherd, the first American Astronaut to go in Space. It is designed to take astronauts and research payloads past the Karman line, the internationally recognized boundary of space.
Boeing- Boeing is the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer in space and security systems. Throughout the last 50 years, Boeing has been integral in every major endeavor to escape earth’s gravity. The satellite industry has made the headlines since the launch of its first Mercury capsule to the current ISS (International Space Station).
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is the most powerful rocket ever built. Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS design development, test, and production of the launch vehicle. SLS is the world’s only super heavy rocket capable of transporting astronauts to deep space. NASA is setting its eyes on the exploration of Mars with the help of Boeing technology. Boeing has successfully launched all of NASA’s Mars probes and rovers aboard Delta 11 launch vehicles. Recently Boeing engineer designed a spacesuit to protect astronauts from dust, radiation and other hazards when exploring the surface of moon and mars.
Sierra Nevada Corporation- Selected by NASA, SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft is a multi-mission space utility vehicle. It used for transporting crew and cargo to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) destinations such as ISS (International Space Station). The system is designed to deliver up to 5,500 kg of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the space station under the CRS (Commercial Resupply Service)-2 contract. It will carry supplies like food, water, & science experiments and returns to earth with a gentle runway landing. The spacecraft is selected by NASA to provide a minimum of 6 cargo missions to and from the space station by 2021. Sierra Nevada Corporation is making solid progress and likely to stay a key player in the private space company.
Northrop Grumman Corporation- NGC is a leader in science and exploration in space for more than 60 years. Thiokol Chemical Company, now part of NGC developed the world’s first reusable space shuttle program in the late 1970s.
Contribution to NASA: July 20, 1969, was a historic day when the world watched, astronaut Neil Armstrong took mankind’s first steps on the moon. The success of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission is still remembered and celebrated. Several heritage companies of NGC are recognized for the vital role they played in the achievement of the Apollo 11 mission. NGC designed, assembled, integrated and tested the Lunar Module (LM) of the Apollo program.
NASA’s Northrop Grumman built Chandra X-ray Observatory and it continues to produce data that enables astronomers to make extraordinary discoveries. Launched in 1999, Chandra has found evidence for a significant new class of supernova. It has also uncovered evidence of a powerful outburst from the giant black hole at the Milky Way’s center.
NASA has a long tradition of utilizing Northrop Grumman’s spacecraft, including the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that landed on Mars in 2004. The rovers will help guide the Mars as it investigates the viability of microbial life on the planet now or in the past.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will play an important role in studying planetary systems. NGC is the prime contractor for building the dreams of Webb technology. The telescope will be sensitive to infrared light which will enable it to understand an era of the universe just a few million years after the Big Bang.
Made in Space- MIS is the space-based manufacturing company, dedicated to making of reliable Additive manufacturing equipment and fiber optics (MIS Fiber) for Space. Additive manufacturing is also known as 3D Printing and is transforming the industry. It can manufacture larger and more complex objects faster, with finer precision and with multiple aerospace grade materials. MIS Fiber Optics, on the other hand, is produced without crystals that affect signal loss. Later, these crystals provide superior data transmission capabilities, high-speed internet as well as enhancing technologies in space.
Virgin Galactic- Virgin Galactic is a spaceflight company founded in 2004 by British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. It is developing commercial space crafts and aims to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists. VG uses a larger, four-engine jet plane that carries passengers into space. It is similar in design to a private plane. These private space firms seem to have different interests in the space race, but actually, these companies share the same goals.
Looking at the future, there will be a need for laws, regulation, and controlling authority to govern space exploration. It will be necessary to have firm and well-understood protocols in the event space crashing, while there are serious issues around the safety of astronauts as well. At the moment, the UN’s Outer Space Affairs is responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. Perhaps, the entry of the private sector into space exploration will contribute to the growth of the economy as valuable targets for investment. However, it will be interesting to see how healthy competition opens up in the development of the Space Era for Citizens.