The entrepreneurial efforts of Elon Musk have already thrust our society into the future in transformational ways. He helped to invent the concept of sending money between people over the internet by founding a company that eventually became PayPal. His car company, Tesla, has done more to popularize the concept of electric cars than all of the models released by the major automakers. His most exciting enterprise to date, as far as its effect on our future, is SpaceX.
SpaceX has been sending satellites and other cargo to Earth orbit for years now. This company has brought down the costs of space travel by successfully recovering rockets that have already been launched into space on multiple occasions. It has been reported that this space launch company has doubled its record for the number of annual space launches this year. It is, in fact, only a little shy of matching the total number of launches they did over the past three years combined.
The very concept of a private space launch company is one that many doubted would succeed when SpaceX first opened its doors. The fact that it is continuing to pick up contracts for launches of satellites shows that this latest effort is poised for success and that it has a leg up on any new competitors that may enter the field.
In a day and age of ever-tightening government budgets, it is heartening for those of us who believe in the value of space travel that private industry is beginning to take up the mantle of this important endeavor. Granted, private companies have not done pioneering exploratory missions such as the Apollo trips to the moon of a few decades ago, but that may soon change. Elon Musk has made no secret of the fact that he wants to see humanity get to Mars and that this is what is truly motivating these first steps into Earth orbit. He hopes that these missions will lay the groundwork for learning and technological breakthroughs that will make these tentative first steps into space by private industry be the beginning of a great step forward for humanity.
Elon Musk is making the rounds, speaking at the International Space Station R&D Conference which was on the heels of his talk at the National Governors Association. Though quite a bit of attention has been spent on Musk’s concerns regarding artificial intelligence, SpaceX’s progress on the Mars colonization front is still a high priority for many investors and other people. Though familiar obstacles, from physics and weather and technology and experimentation, have conspired to create a typical recursive process in the development of spacecraft, ultimately money might be the singular factor that prevents people from living on Mars.
First the tech. SpaceX is backing away from propulsion rockets because developers have determined the craft no longer needs a controlled descent to land on Mars. Replacement rockets are being designed and developed. Those will likely not be unveiled this year, but the highly anticipated Falcon Heavy inaugural flight is slated to occur later this year. The Falcon Heavy will likely not get far from the launch pad, despite the nine rockets strapped to the spacecraft. According to Musk, the design proved to be “way, way more difficult” than anticipated. The lift-off will provide some real world data that cannot be created in simulation. The slow-down on the design translates to a slow-down on capital.
TechCrunch reports that part of the SpaceX plan to colonize Mars is dependent on money generated from a smaller spacecraft capable of orbiting the Earth. Whether used for space tourism or government-backed missions, the earnings from the smaller spacecraft will fund the development of the larger craft and the Mars mission. It seems that even one of the world’s richest men needs to pay for his dreams.
Recently, multi-billionaire CEO of SpaceX and co-founder of electric car giant Tesla’s Elon Musk has reaffirmed that his biggest goal is to someday colonize Mars. The business tycoon has long been documented as having quite the affinity for the red planet and has dedicated most of his adult life to the pursuit of humans being an interplanetary species. Although SpaceX makes a living currently off of both delivering satellites into outer space for a variety of US and international clients and delivering supplies to the International Space Station, Musk’s true intention with SpaceX is to use it as a vehicle through which Mars may one day be colonized. To aid the engineer and his team he is calling upon the Falcon Heavy. Although this may sound like a fictional science fiction aircraft it is actually quite real and quite powerful. The first test flight of the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s largest rocket to date, is scheduled for later this summer although SpaceX is frequently known to push back scheduled launches in order to fine tune their design. This is completely understandable of course seeing that each launch of the Falcon Heavy is estimated to cost around ninety million dollars. Even Musk himself has said that it is unlikely the Falcon Heavy will be successful on its first attempt at space flight due to the almost insurmountable number of steps and stages that need to happen with near impossible perfection in order to be successful. It’s unlikely that in any of our lifetimes we will see Mars be fully colonized. But if I’m putting money on anyone or any company to achieve the mammoth feat it’s going to be Elon Musk and his brainchild SpaceX.
Hawthorne, CA-based SpaceX was awarded the contract to launch a U.S. Air Force secret space plane. The X-37B is an unmanned craft that resembles a small space shuttle. It is built by Boeing, and is being used as an orbital test vehicle.
The X-37B was previously launched by the United Launch Alliance, the joint space venture of Lockheed-Martin and Boeing. The space plane will now be carried into orbit by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 partially reusable launch vehicle. It has a small, 7×4 foot cargo bay. Boeing is developing a new X-37C which will be able to carry up to 6 astronauts or passengers into orbit.
The space plane’s previous four missions were secret long-duration flights, with the most recent lasting more than 700 days. The unmanned, robotic craft is testing technologies including navigation, control, thermal protection and autonomous orbital flight, according to Capt. AnnMarie Annicelli, U.S. Air Force spokeswoman.
SpaceX’s profitability will get a boost from the new military space plane launch contract, according to TechCrunch. The X-37B has also been described as a “mini Space Shuttle.” Space enthusiasts have wondered about its function and secret missions since it was first-launched five years ago. The Air Force reportedly has two operating space planes.
One potential function of the space plane test flights was reported in National Interest. A Hall-effect ion thruster engine was reported to be under evaluation in the X-37B. This engine enables a shuttle or other space vehicle to maneuver better in space. Current technology is slow and cumbersome with limited mobility. The Hall-effect thruster isn’t as fast as jet engines usable in the atmosphere, but does offer benefits in an orbital space environment. It could enable the X-37B to perform a critical mission to defend satellites or provide an early-warning system in case of attack.