Outsourcing space missions brings travel to the human level


Space is cool again. To be more precise, humans going to space is cool again.

Over the past couple of weeks we have seen some big news regarding human space travel, and I wanted to share some of my excitement.

During the Cold War NASA was created as a government agency to send humans to the moon. It was a mostly government project to invent, test and run all the equipment needed to get to the moon. NASA accomplished that in 1969, made a few more trips, and then that was pretty much it for nearly 50 years.

Well, NASA is going back, but this time with lots of help from the private sector. Since space is no longer of only interest to warring but not warring governments like the U.S. and Soviet Union, several companies have the technology and commercial interest in space exploration.

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Outsourcing the space missions

That is why this time around, most of the work is being outsourced.

Three companies competed to build a lunar lander for NASA’s new Artemis missions to the moon: Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and long time Department of Defense contractor Dynetics.

SpaceX’s design ultimately won the NASA contract, but it is very exciting to see the private sector stepping up with multiple innovative approaches to get humans back to the moon. I would not be surprised at all if the other two companies, Blue Origin and Dynetics, still move forward with their projects, as there could be private entities (or other governments) that have interests in going to the moon.

A couple of remarkable things

Another major space story related to SpaceX is its reusable rockets carrying humans to the International Space Station (ISS). On April 24, the second SpaceX crew mission (real mission, not a test or demonstration) docked with the ISS. What was remarkable about this mission was a couple of things.

First, the previous SpaceX crew capsule was still docked, making this the first time multiple privately owned vehicles were at the space station at the same time. However, the second and perhaps more remarkable event was the fact this SpaceX crew mission used a rocket and capsule that had previously been flown.

Not only has SpaceX proved a private entity can fully and independently develop a vehicle for human space flight, but also that they can reuse that vehicle for human space flight.

The Space Shuttle developed by the U.S. government was partially reusable, required long periods of refurbishment and was very expensive to operate. The privately funded SpaceX system is much cheaper, efficient and easier to operate.

We should expect more frequent human trips to outer space.

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China is in the game, currently with an out-of-control rocket

Finally, a story out of China. China was the third and most recent country to develop a space program capable of sending humans into space. It has done so on a limited basis since its first human spaceflight in 2003.

However, they plan on returning to space. On April 28, the Chinese government launched the first piece of what they hope will be a long term space station. So far the module for the “Tianhe” appears to have made it to its planned orbit according to Spacenews.com.

However, the expendable core stage of the rocket is not falling back to Earth as planned and it appears the Chinese have lost control of it altogether.

According to Spacenews this will be one of the largest uncontrolled reentry of a spacecraft. Because of how large it is and its orbit, debris could hit the ground anywhere from New York to Wellington, New Zealand.

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