Is space technology approaching a turning point? The modern innovations in space tech are making the dreams of yesterday a possibility and may well be leading us into a new age of space exploration.
As Earth continues to navigate the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that breakthroughs in space technology have helped to lift humanity’s spirits.
Despite logistical difficulties and reduced activity across the global economy, the space industry actually flourished in 2020 and continues to go from strength to strength this year.
The boom in commercial space tech development also seems to have given traditional government space agencies a renewed sense of purpose, as NASA plans to return to the moon with its Artemis Program and options are being explored for further missions to Mars.
Here are some of the most recent breakthroughs in space technology that will help set the agenda for future development in space exploration.
Commercial Space Firms Join Forces With NASA
It seems that the government space agencies that dictated the tone of space exploration in the last century have finally taken note of the progress made with innovations in space tech from the commercial sector. Cooperation between state and private space interests has been growing, and this relationship passed a significant milestone in May last year.
While the commercial rocket companies have been transporting supplies to the International Space Station since 2012, today, they are fully licensed to transport personnel to the facility with NASA’s blessing.
It’s the first mission of the Commercial Crew Program between NASA and commercial partners, and it’s hoped that this collaborative approach will lead to the acceleration of space technology development as a whole to the mutual benefit of all parties.
If nothing else, the launch is compelling proof of how far the private sector has come to match the capacities of the more experienced operators in the field of space exploration.
Micro Launchers Emerge to Challenge the Space Technology Status Quo
Thus far, clients who want their satellites launched into the Earth’s orbit have mostly had to choose between the services of the larger, more established rocket companies. The reason for this is that, with their bigger modern rockets, these companies can offer the most competitive cost to kilo ratios on the payloads they can deliver.
These services do have their drawbacks, though. The launches of such large craft require an incredible amount of pre planning beforehand, and the scale of the projects often leaves them vulnerable to delays.
Additionally, because they’re carrying payloads from so many different sources, individual clients have little say about the particulars of when and where the launches take place.
However, new, smaller micro launchers appear to be on the verge of disrupting this state of affairs. Smaller space startups are creating modern rockets that can offer clients a boutique launch service to put their reusable satellites into orbit.
3D printing in the space industry means that these rockets can be manufactured at a lower cost, with savings passed onto clients. Although they cannot offer the same cost-effectiveness as their larger competitors, micro launcher proponents argue that they don’t have to.
Their modern rockets offer clients a more rapid launch window and give their partners greater choice over variables like the exact trajectory of the launch and at what point in Earth’s orbit their payloads will be delivered.
The difference can be likened to the choice between taking a taxi or a bus: a bus is cheaper, but a taxi will take you to your exact destination far more quickly.
Entrepreneurs Become Astronauts: The Birth of Space Tourism
Space tourism has persisted as an exciting proposition for those inside and outside of the space technology industry. The concept has understandably acquired the status of a pipedream for some, but this year will see space tourism finally become a reality (albeit for a handful of the ultrarich).
Billionaire entrepreneurs have already begun taking to the stars, and these ultra-rich space enthusiasts appear to be laying the groundwork for the future of space tourism. Perhaps for the rest of us who don’t count ourselves amongst the wealthiest people on the planet, we might well doubt whether we’ll see an opportunity for regular people to visit space.
However, when modern economies of scale are considered, the popular availability of space tourism may not be so far from our reach. Powered flight was achieved by mankind at the start of the 20th century, and by the 1970s, air travel was affordable for the middle classes.
When we consider the modern pace of globalization and scientific innovation, it is not so unthinkable that space tourism will become available for wider consumption in a much shorter time frame.
It’s obvious to anyone with even a passing interest in history that we’re truly living in a golden age for space technology. As the lines blur between state space agencies and private space startups, perhaps the space technology sector can provide a blueprint for how the people living on Earth can come together to realize our collective potential.
Are there any innovations in space tech that you’re excited to see realized? Let us know in the comments section below.