Between the rise of the commercial space industry and the proliferation of agencies and programs, it is clear that we live in a new space age. A cornerstone of this new age is how reusable rockets, small satellite technology, and other advances are reducing the cost of launching payloads to orbit. This, in turn, increases access to space and allows more people and organizations to participate in lucrative research.
In January of 2020, IBM chose to build on its many years of working with the space sector by launching its own commercial space venture known as IBM Space Tech. In early 2022, IBM Space Tech will be launching its first CubeSat space mission, namedENDURANCE, to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). By leveraging IBM/Red Hat software and the IBM Cloud, this CubeSat will give students all over the world access to space!
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), over 4,000 operational satellites are currently in orbit around Earth. According to some estimates, this number is expected to reach as high as 100,000 by the end of this decade, including telecommunication, internet, research, navigation, and Earth Observation satellites. As part of the “commercialization” of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) anticipated in this century, the presence of so many satellites will create new opportunities (as well as hazards).
The presence of these satellites will require a great deal of mitigation (to prevent collisions), servicing, and maintenance. For example, the San Francisco-based startup Orbit Fab is working to create all the necessary technology for orbital refueling services for satellites. To help realize this goal, industry giant Lockheed Martin recently announced that they are investing in Orbit Fab’s “Gas Stations in Space™” refueling technology.
Early this morning, from their Launch Site One facility in West Texas, Blue Origin made history as it conducted the first crewed flight of its New Shepard launch vehicle. The crew consisted of four commercial astronauts: Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, aerospace pioneer Wally Funk, and 18-year old student from The Netherlands Oliver Daemon.
On the anniversary of the first Moon landing, Blue Origin became the second commercial space company in just nine days to send people just past the edge of space. During the seemingly flawless 10 minute and 10 second flight, the four passengers on board the New Shepard rocket whooped with glee and exhilaration. The crew included Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and the oldest and youngest people to ever fly to space.
Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pioneering female aviator and member of the so-called “Mercury 13” women astronaut-hopefuls made the flight, along with Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch physics student.
At their South Texas Launch Facility, just outside of the village of Boca Chica, SpaceX is gearing up to test the Super Heavy, the booster element of their Starship launch system. This massive reusable first stage rocket will be responsible for sending the Starship orbital vehicle to space, where it will deliver satellites to orbit, payloads and people to the Moon, and (if all goes as planned) the first human settlers to Mars.
According to a recent statement issued by SpaceX founder Musk Musk, the Starship could also be used to “chomp up debris” in Earth orbit. As usual, the statement was issued via Twitter, where Musk was once again addressing questions posted by followers and fans. The topic arose after Musk shared the latest updates about Starlink, one of a handful of satellite constellations that are bringing broadband internet services to every corner of the planet.
It’s no secret that the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace) has become immensely lucrative in recent years, nor the fact that it has become intensely competitive as a result. To illustrate, one needs to look no further than the top three NewSpace companies in the world right now: SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic. Between these three companies, all founded by billionaires with similar visions, a new space race has begun.
In recent months, the race has intensified as Jeff Bezos announced that he would be going to space on the inaugural flight of the New Shepard rocket. In response, Virgin Galactic founder and CEO Richard Branson announced earlier this week that he would fly aboard the VSS Unity as it makes its latest test flight. If successful, this mission – scheduled for Sunday, July 11th (weather permitting) – will see Branson become the first billionaire to go to space.
On July 20th,, Blue Origin will conduct the first crewed launch of their New Shepard rocket, the reusable launch vehicle that will send small payloads and customers to space. In addition to Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark, the company announced that one of the seats was being left open for auction. On Saturday, June 12th, the company announced that the auction had closed with a winning bid of $28 million USD.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that competition is a great way to foster progress and innovation. If these truisms are to be believed, then the NewSpace industry is destined to benefit from the presence of Relativity Space, a commercial space company based in Los Angeles. At the same time, SpaceX founder Elon Musk should be flattered that Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone (founders of Relativity Space) are following his example.
Roughly six years ago, Ellis and Noone founded Relativity for the purpose of using new technologies to disrupt the aerospace industry. Earlier this week (Tuesday, June 8th), the company announced that it had raised an additional $650 million in private capital. This money will go towards the development of rockets that are entirely 3D-printed and fully reusable, as well as the creation of a new class of heavy launch vehicles known as the “Terran-R.”
In July 1999, the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) was created with the purpose of representing the “Space Generation” to the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). For this non-governmental organization and professional network, this would consist of bringing the “views of students and young space professionals to the United Nations (UN), space industry and other organizations”.
Given the importance of the Moon for all of our future space exploration goals, SGAC created an interdisciplinary group in June of 2020 that is focused on lunar policy. Known as the Effective and Adaptive Governance for a Lunar Ecosystem (E.A.G.L.E.), this group of 14 young space professionals is dedicated to ensuring that the younger generation has a voice when it comes to the development of regulations for lunar policy.
On May 12th, 2021, the SGAC released the report prepared by the EAGLE group, which outlines their ideas and proposals for how we can ensure that the regulations governing lunar activities are inclusive, effective, and adaptative. It’s known as the Lunar Governance Report, a document that will be presented during the 2021 meetings of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).
Things have been heating up lately over at Blue Origin, the commercial spaceflight company launched by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Since Bezos stepped down as CEO of Amazon to take a more hands-on role with his other projects, the company has made some rather positive strides. This includes a “dress rehearsal” test flight that took place on April 14th and brought their New Shepard a step closer to bringing passengers to space.
Following the success of this flight, Blue Origin recently announced they are planning to conduct the first crewed flight with the New Shepard by July 20th. In addition to the Blue Origin astronaut crew, one seat is being set aside for a commercial passenger. As of May 5th, Blue Origin announced that this ticket will be available for auction and that the proceeds will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future.