Editor’s note: 2020 is coming, andmedia are beginning to recall 2010-2019. The rise of commercial space flight has been an exciting event in the past decade. Traditionally, the space industry has been state-led, with government tenders and equipment provided, even with the participation of companies, while in the commercial space age, private companies were not just government contractors, but could do other tasks to make money. The incentive model has changed and progress has been faster.
December 13 (UPI) — The commercial space market has grown rapidly over the past decade under the leadership of private companies such as SpaceX, with a substantial shift in both technology and operating models, according tomedia reports.
On May 25, 2012, a small, tear-jerking capsule arrived at the International Space Station filled with supplies for astronauts. The spacecraft is unobtrusive of the International Space Station’s many resupply missions, but it is unique in itself: it is a cargo ship called the Dragon, owned and operated by space company SpaceX.
Until 2012, only government-operated spacecraft visited the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft is the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the space station. The milestone was the highest achievement of the commercialization of space at that time. And in the past decade, commercialization has changed the space world forever.
Over the past decade, the way the space industry operates has changed, with new market participants targeting different markets and creating more ambitious projects, resulting in explosive growth in space commercialization that has made it easier than ever for man-made devices to enter space. As we enter the 1920s, this growth has given a huge boost to the commercialization of space, and it remains to be seen whether this momentum will be sustained in the future.
A new paradigm
Commercial companies have been involved in space flight since humans began to travel in space. NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which was used to land on the moon for the first time, was made by a private company. But for much of the 20th century, companies that made rockets and spaceships focused not just on space travel. Many large contractors develop space technology while also focusing on other technology fields, such as aviation and defense. What they’re after is purely government-level contracts, either from NASA or from the Department of Defense, and usually the government tells them what to do and what not to do.
Graphic: In 2011, NASA sent the contractor-built space shuttle into space for the last time.
“Under the old model, the government would hire Lockheed, Boeing or other companies to build these rockets,” said Brian Weeden, program director at the Safe World Foundation. “Almost all the money will come from the government, which will take almost complete control over the whole project. “This is how the space shuttle, the International Space Station and the future James Webb Space Telescope will be built. All of these things are owned and operated by NASA. “
For years, companies with the most experience in the space industry have been chasing lucrative government jobs and abandoning the private market. The largest U.S. launch provider, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), was founded in 2006 to launch national security satellites for the Defense Department. “Because our company is only interested in government customers and only on government customers, we had no market share in the commercial space launch market until 2010. Greg Autry, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in space market research, points out. “If a private Thai company wants to launch a television satellite, or an Israeli company wants to launch a communications satellite, the U.S. launch vehicle is not even considered. “
But after 2000, a new player appeared in commercial space. SpaceX, the space company run by billionaire Elon Musk, has taken a completely different course than the contractor. The company, which focuses only on space travel, has an ambitious long-term goal: to one day build settlements on Mars. First, it has to build real rockets, and companies have to be profitable in this regard. Backed by Musk and early private investment, SpaceX began developing its own rockets. Instead of focusing on government contracts, SpaceX is trying to win over as many customers as possible. If you have something to go into space, SpaceX can help you launch.
Pictured: SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft docks with the International Space Station in May 2012
When SpaceX began to earn itself more of a reputation in the space market, NASA began experimenting with a new way of operating, a fixed-price contract: NASA would come up with a service requirement (for example, the way it delivered cargo to the International Space Station). The business will then present its own ideas and tools to achieve this goal. If NASA likes the plan, it will make a one-off investment, and the company will invest in development. Once the project equipment is complete, NASA will pay for the use. The idea was a win-win. NASA will reduce the upfront cost of services, and private companies will own and operate the equipment they develop.
This model is perfect for companies like SpaceX. It could use investment from the government to fill the funding gap for its rocket development and eventually make money from rockets after development. “It gives them creative thinking,” said Lori Garver, a former NASA deputy director. “If you can get there, there will be a market.” “That’s exactly what happened after NASA commissioned SpaceX to ship the service to the International Space Station. When SpaceX developed the Falcon 9 rocket, it tried to carry as many satellites as possible to the top of the rocket.
To attract more customers, SpaceX is trying to reduce launch costs through new manufacturing methods and vertical integration operations. SpaceX is known to be relentless in building reusable rocket boosters that save the company’s manufacturing costs by recycling them after each launch. The company also benefited from cheap launches. Despite several failed rocket launches, SpaceX remains the most prolific u.S. launch provider, with contracts with many customers around the world. “They want to pursue the private market,” says Jim Munncy, founder of PoliSpace, a space policy consultancy. “
There’s good or bad.
Capital eventually penetrated into space in the first decade of this century, which means that competition is in full swing. Over the past decade, a number of rocket launch service providers have also been looking for ways to reduce costs, some of them developing reusable Mars. Blue Origin, Virgin Orbits, Rocket Lab, etc. continue to pour in. As launch costs fall, man-made devices have ever been easier to get into space.
Over the past decade, Moore’s Law has finally taken effect in space flight, with satellites and spacecraft becoming smaller and smaller. Today’s satellites are the size of a cereal box, easier to build, less expensive, less expensive to launch, and less rocket-to-life than previous bus-sized satellites. The result has been great success for companies that focus on making small satellites. Research institutions and universities can easily put some equipment into orbit. This trend, combined with more launch vehicles, has led to an explosive growth in new launch vehicles and satellite networks by commercial companies.
All these advances have had unintended consequences. SpaceX’s rise has been accompanied by a surge in SpaceX’s fan base. Musk’s fans see him as a near-god figure, the saviour of mankind, who will be brought to Mars. But people should be sober about SpaceX’s views and ambitions. SpaceX says its spacecraft will land on the moon in 2022. But the ship hasn’t been built yet. Linda Billings, a consultant on NASA’s Astrobiology and Planetary Defense Program, admits: “No matter how odd, every statement they make has not been criticized. “
Graphic: SpaceX’s first Internet satellites were launched.
Some of the more difficult projects these companies want to do can also be harmful. Notably, SpaceX, OneWeb and others are looking at a new space market: filling near-Earth orbit with tens of thousands of satellites, sending Internet coverage across the planet. In order to promote the development of the commercial space market, the government has taken a relaxed approach to managing these more entrepreneurial companies. The Federal Communications Commission(FCC), which licenses launches, has been so lenient that SpaceX and OneWeb have been able to advance their plans to mass-build satellites. Now, nothing can stop them from increasing the number of satellites in orbit by a few orders of magnitude.
It is not clear what impact this will have on the space around the Earth. There are already fears that so many satellites will change the night sky, making it difficult for astronomers to make detailed observations of the universe. But more worryingly, all these satellites will make the space area around the Earth more crowded. Putting thousands of satellites into orbit over the next few years could greatly increase the chances of collisions. The end result may be that the near-Earth orbit becomes too crowded to be used at all.
Over the past decade, as the commercial space market has grown, so has ambitions, but many promises have not been fulfilled. Most notably, manned spacecraft are not yet fully mature. Space travel companies such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have suggested that customers could fly into space within a decade. It now appears that this dream will not come true until 2020. “Branson has said that we will start providing space travel services in 2008,” Billings said. “Where are we now?” Meanwhile, SpaceX and Boeing have been developing new vehicles to send humans to the International Space Station. While this process may be less costly than other contracting methods, the development process is still fraught with problems. The first astronauts were scheduled to lift off in 2017. It is now likely that the first flight will take off in 2020. Whatever the contracting method, it will still take a lot of time to develop new manned spacecraft that can guarantee personal safety.
With the advent of the 2020s, the commercial space market will have more areas to explore, many companies have set their sights beyond near-Earth orbit. Many private companies plan to send unmanned spacecraft to the moon in the next few years, and SpaceX, Blue Origin and others have vowed to one day put humans on the moon, and it’s unclear how long it will take them to get there. An Israeli non-profit private organization tried unsuccessfully to land on the moon this year.
The outlook for the space travel market is uncertain, and even the satellite market has been weak in recent years, which may explain SpaceX’s attempts to turn itself into a consumer-oriented business through its internet satellite business. It needs money to keep the company running. The scary idea is: What if the space market can’t squeeze more money? Experts have long predicted that the private space station will dominate near-Earth orbit and become a frequent visitor. Eventually, private companies hope to find ice on the moon’s surface and convert it into rocket fuel for drinking water or lunar bases. All this sounds like a bright future. “Honestly, the commercialization of the moon won’t be that fast because there won’t be a market in the short term,” Garver said. “But anyone can tell you that there’s a launch market outside of NASA. “
The next decade will show us whether the progress of the commercial space industry can be compared with the past decade. Perhaps these companies will eventually take humans out of Earth’s orbit and into deep space. Or for the foreseeable future, the space market is not far from our Earth home. (Chenchen)