In previous articles I have explained my interest and enthusiasm for the U.S. Space program. Going back to it’s beginnings, the space race was both challenging and exciting. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed and has been in charge of financing and managing our space program. The financial cost of the program over the years is staggering. With the complications of today’s world and the threat of budget cuts looming large the idea of privatizing at least some of our future space efforts has become much more advantageous and necessary.
A March 28, 2017 article in SpaceNews.com written by Jeff Foust details that “The Trump administration is asking Congressional appropriators to cut $90 million from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellite programs and $50 million from NASA science programs in any fiscal year 2017 bills they approve in the next month.” Those cuts would suggest that privatizing should be the wave of the future.
The most successful company in this new space effort is SpaceX which was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk. The company designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The ultimate goal of the company is to enable people to live on other planets. According to their website SpaceX.com ” SpaceX has gained worldwide attention for a series of historic milestones. It is the only private company ever to return a a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, which it first accomplished in 2010.
The company made history again in May 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft attached to and from the International Space Station, exchanged cargo payloads, and returned safely to Earth – a technically challenging feat previously only achieved by governments. Since then the Dragon has delivered cargo to and from the space station multiple times, providing regular cargo resupply missions for NASA.”
The year 2013 was the first flight of the Falcon 9 that reached geosynchronous transfer orbit. On December 21, 2015 the Falcon 9 rocket delivered 11 communications satellites into orbit and the first stage rocket landed at Landing Zone 1 which was the first ever orbital class rocket landing.
We witnessed another historic event when the first stage rocket made a return safe landing to Earth on April 8, 2016 on a drone ship called “Of Course I Still Love You.”
The most recent flight of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket occurred on March 30, 2017 setting another record. It marked the first time that a reused rocket was successfully launched into space. Here is a look at the launch. The NASA Space Shuttle program was the first to send a reusable spacecraft back into space, but it’s booster rockets had to be replaced each time. SpaceX has returned the first stage rocket, examined it carefully, refueled it and then launched it back into space. That saves a lot of money and the time it would take to build another first stage rocket.
The success of SpaceX has brought the company lucrative contracts including a nearly 1.6 billion dollar contract with NASA to fly at least 20 cargo resupply missions to the ISS. In an upgrade to that contract they will add a minimum of 6 more flights from 2019 and beyond.
The Dragon spacecraft has been used as a cargo vessel, but is also ready to be refitted to make it ready to take astronauts up to the ISS. The company reports that it has over 10 billion dollars in contracts for 70 future missions that will include not only NASA and other government missions, but also commercial satellite launches.
Now that one private-sector company has had such success with it’s space program it is a sure bet that others will follow in their footsteps in an attempt to make the aerospace industry competitive and profitable. Since our eyes have turned to Mars as the next place humans will visit and we know that will be a very expensive operation this looks like the way to go. Companies sharing in the project just might make it happen sooner than later.
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