Space is a happening place—from Musk to Bezos to Trump.
A lot is going on in outer space. Recently Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched three commercial Falcon 9 missions from Florida and California in less than two weeks. One reused a first stage from a previous flight. SpaceX will likely succeed in its aim of launching 20 or so Falcon missions this year, including an unmanned test of the Dragon capsule intended to carry American astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station.
At the same time Jeff Bezos ’ Blue Origins is continuing to test its New Shepard reusable suborbital tourism rocket. The next stage is the giant New Glenn Reusable Launch vehicle, which would dramatically reduce the cost of getting payloads and people into space.
Messrs. Bezos and Musk are both committed to spreading civilization beyond Earth. Mr. Musk wants to colonize Mars, while Mr. Bezos wants to develop an extraterrestrial economy with asteroid mining and space manufacturing. There are other, poorer entrepreneurs, sometimes called “new space,” dedicated to these goals.
If SpaceX keeps gaining market share and Blue Origins builds and launches its New Glenn rocket, the cost of getting off the ground (literally) will be dramatically reduced, possibly to as little as $10 a pound to low-Earth orbit. That would make the dreams of both Messrs. Musk and Bezos possible, indeed highly profitable.
Low-cost access to space also has military implications. For the U.S., it will be easier for the Pentagon to deploy communications, navigation and reconnaissance satellites. This will be especially useful if the Defense Department follows through on evident congressional desire to develop and deploy a comprehensive set of space-based missile-defense sensors to guide America’s next generation of interceptor missiles.
Europeans are also interested in reducing the cost of launching. They’re working on an Ariane 6 launch vehicle they hope will allow them to regain some of the market share they have lost to SpaceX. China and Russia are developing new rockets no doubt to imitate the American billionaires’ success. Aviation Week reports China may be getting serious about developing its own reusable launch vehicles.
Further, China and Russia are reportedly working hard on a variety of antisatellite weapons. The debris from China’s 2007 test of a kinetic space weapon is still floating around, a reminder of what the effects of a space war might be.
Cheap access to space will make it easier to put a variety of weapons into orbit—not just missile defense but space-to-Earth weapons. The high military value of space assets makes them obvious targets in any future conflict.
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