April 8th, 2021 marks 5 years since SpaceX first landed their rockets, and to mark this event, we wanted to look back at how far the space industry has come. This won’t be a full look back at at every event that has happened, but some noteworthy events.
5 years ago, we went to the NewSpace conference remember that we met an individual who was upset that he was unable to find a launch partner for some of his cubesats. The industry has really changed since 2016, in many ways, which means that today we will look at 5 different events that really highlight some of the accomplishments of the newspace industry in these past 5 years. This isn’t a complete list, but some unique ways that the new space industry has grown since 2016, which will highlight how future growth in the industry could be going.
Launch America – Launching Astronauts to the ISS from the US
After the space shuttle retired in 2010, the US didn’t have a transport to space that was on US soil; therefore, NASA contracted with RosCosMos for launch services. However, that did change when SpaceX launched 2 astronauts to the ISS as part of Crew-1. This is a major achievement that shows that the commercial. sector can provide services at a time when the public sector can’t.
Plus, the success by SpaceX provides a great framework and precedent for what a successful partnership with the private sector could be.
What the Boeing Starliner second success shows is that there is potential for companies to
What make Virgin Orbit unique is that they were founded within the last 5 years, March 2nd, 2017, just as many other companies such as Rocket Labs. But, why Virgin Orbit makes this list is that they have taken a concept of launching cubesats from a retrofitted 747 named Cosmic Girl. We were able to get a great, up close view of Cosmic Girl at a NASA Social Event in 2019. With their recent successes, Virgin Orbit now is providing launch services to help launch cubesats and help develop the cubesat launch market. This is a great opportunity for those such as the person we met at the NewSpace conference who was looking for a provider for his company’s cubesats, as the market is not only developing to provide many options for those interested, but also helping democratize access to space.
Blue Origin BE4 Engines Design
Although they are not slated to run for another few months, the Blue Origin Be4 engines are a fascinating piece of technology. With Blue Origin building New Glenn which will use these BE-4 Engines, it shows that companies can help advance space projects for other companies and build their own platforms. The BE-4 engine has been selected by United Launch Alliance for their Vulcan rocket and it looks like Orbital ATK is reviewing the BE-4 engine for use in future rockets. This is important as BE-4 is a model for how space companies can use products that other new space companies create.
Hope Mars Orbiter
2020 saw 3 missions launched to Mars, all of which arrived at the red planet in early 2021. What was really impressive was how the UAE Emirates Mars Mission and its Hope orbiter were able to provide the world with a realization that a traditional space faring country such as the US, India, Russia, or China can do something that only 4 or 5 other countries have done, send a mission to Mars successfully. The Hope Mars Orbiter really is inspiring to know that nontraditional space powers can work with existing new space institutions and companies to expand the opportunities for exploration and expand access to space. With this new opportunity, future generations of citizens of the UAE will now be able to study science and technology and contribute in ways that were previously not possible. This does provide hope for other emerging countries that they too can succeed in providing real scientific value to the scientific community. This shows the world that anything is possible in the space community from countries other than the traditional space powers.
What Starlink shows is that these new space companies can provide their own services in addition to launch capabilities. This is great as it shows that once established, these companies can expand to new opportunities not covered by existing service. In this case, the service being provided is low latency, broadband internet system to meet the needs of consumers across the globe.
However, what we want to highlight here is that when new space companies like SpaceX expand to new services, these expansions can cause serious scientific issues. While we wholeheartedly support providing internet to underserved communities, it cannot be done in a way that degrades the night sky and potentially cause future spaceflight problems. SpaceX did have issues with their Starlink satellites reflecting enough sunlight at night to be seen clearly with the naked eye and by sensitive telescopes. This disrupted important scientific research performed by these ground based telescopes, as these trains of multiple satellites flying overhead does cause a serious issue.
SpaceX did implement black antireflective coating on future launches based upon this feedback from the scientific community. The results of this antireflective coating was that these new satellites are half as dark as the original starling satellites. This is important as anything that can cause serious scientific issues, should be discussed before moving forward at the speed that Starlink is moving. The other threat of Starlink is that a catastrophic clutter of space debris left behind by the satellites could potentially block rockets from leaving Earth, an effect known as “Kessler Syndrome.” Although the FAA approval meant that SpaceX had to launch a plethora of satellites in a quick succession, future approval should include ways to preventing these types of issues going forward. Although a good thing, the results of Starlink is causing serious scientific harm that should be avoided going forward.
Let us know what you think of the list! Did we miss anything? Make sure to come back to CosmosPNW for more great stories like this one!