United Launch Alliance (ULA) is the oldest commercial space company in the U.S., with over 150 consecutive launches to its credit. For almost two decades, the company has been providing launch services using the expendable Delta II, Delta IV, and Atlas V rockets. Faced with growing competition and political pressure, ULA began working on a new heavy-launch vehicle, the Vulcanrocket, in 2014. Once realized, this rocket will allow the ULA to remain competitive in the burgeoning NewSpace market and meet the needs of the National Security Space Launch (NSSL).
On June 7th, the first stage of the Vulcan successfully test-fired its two Blue Origin BE-4 engines at Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) in Florida. The success of this test, designated Certification-1 (Cert-1), places the ULA on track to launch test its next-generation heavy-launch vehicle. Once realized, the Vulcan rocket will provide services ranging from the deployment of small satellites and payloads to reusable crewed spacecraft, like Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space capsule and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spaceplane.
The commercial space sector (aka. NewSpace) is one of the fastest-growing industries of the 21st century. In the past twenty years, what was once considered an ambitious venture or far-off prospect has become a rapidly-accelerating reality. Today, companies are conducting launches using their own rockets and spacecraft, often from their own facilities, to send everything from satellites and cargo to astronauts (commercial and professional) into space. The growing number of launch providers has also led to a dramatic increase in demand for launch-related services.
This includes retrieval operations designed to provide launch flexibility and safe retrieval. This is the purpose behind The Spaceport Company, a Virginia-based aerospace company dedicated to creating a global network of mobile, sea-based launch and landing site systems. On Monday, May 22nd, the company successfully tested its prototype platform by conducting the first-ever commercial rocket launches from U.S. water. This test demonstrated the potential for mobile sea platforms to ease congestion at on-shore launch facilities and expedite the delivery of payloads to orbit.
Early this morning, Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic achieved a major milestone in the development of commercial space travel. Along with a team of specialists, Branson traveled to the edge of space aboard the VSS Unity and made it safely back to Earth. In so doing, Branson and his company have also fired the latest salvo in the ongoing race between the titans of the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace).
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.
Space exploration sure is hard, huh? Luckily, it’s an iterative process, where engineers test and test and test again to work out all the bugs in advance. At least, that’s what we remind ourselves when the prototype goes “kaboom!” Earlier today, the SN11 joins its predecessors by being the fourth Starship prototype to conduct a successful flight test and then explode while attempting to make a landing (or shortly thereafter).
When it comes to the private aerospace sector (aka. NewSpace), some names stand out from the rest. The most obvious of these is SpaceX (the brainchild of Elon Musk and the leading source of innovation in commercial space) and the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. But what of Blue Origin, the private aerospace company created by Jeff Bezos in 2000?
In recent years, Blue Origin has fallen behind the competition and missed out on several billion dollars worth of contracts. But with Bezos stepping down as CEO of Amazon, industry sources have indicated that this could change soon (according to Eric M. Johnson at Reuters). With all of the opportunities available for commercial space, Bezos is now in a position to take a more hands-on role as the company faces a most pivotal year.
In the past twenty years, one of the biggest developments to take place in the realm of space exploration has been the growth of the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace). As a result of growing demand and declining costs, more companies are coming to the fore to offer launch services that are making space more accessible and cost-effective.
One such company is the space delivery services company Aevum, an Alabama-based startup specializing in Autonomous Launch Vehicles (AuLVs). On Dec. 3rd, 2020, Aevum unveiled their prototype vehicle, the RAVN-X. Once operational, this autonomous suborbital spaceplane will be able to send satellites and other small payloads to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in just three hours.
In recent years, one of the most impressive developments for space exploration has been the rise of the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace). Beyond fulfilling contracts with space agencies like NASA to provide commercial and crewed launch services, private aerospace companies are also fostering innovation that is helping to reduce the cost of sending payloads to space.
Take RocketLab, the US/NZ-based small satellite launch company that has broken new ground with its Electron rocket. In a further bid to reduce the costs of individual launches, RocketLab announced last year that it would begin recovering and reusing the spent boosters of its rockets. Recently, the company took a big step by successfully retrieving the first stage of an Electron after it delivered a payload to orbit.
Here on Earth, the concept of architecture (and those who specialize in it), is pretty clear and straightforward. But in space, human beings have comparatively little experience living and working in habitats. For the past sixty years, multiple space stations have been sent to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which include the now-defunct Salyut stations, Skylab, and Mir, as well as the present-day International Space Station (ISS).
But in the near the future, we hope to build stations and commercial habitats in LEO, on the surface of the Moon, and Mars. In addition to needing a steady supply of food, water, and other necessities, measures will need to be taken to ensure the psychological well-being of their crews. In a recent article, Stellar Amenities founder and CEO (a space architect herself!) Anastasia Prosina explored how space architecture can meet these needs.
When it comes to the growth of the private aerospace sector (aka. NewSpace), one of the more ambitious and exciting elements is the prospect of space tourism. Between SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, proposals include flying customers to suborbital altitudes, flying them to the Moon, or even as far as Mars. And beyond the three NewSpace giants, several smaller companies are looking for a piece of the pie.
One such company is the Japanese startup PD AeroSpace, a Nagoya-based aerospace developer that is looking to provide commercial space launch services, intercontinental transportation, and sub-orbital flights in the near future. Intrinsic to this vision is the development of a unique space plane that will be able to fly tourists to suborbital altitude by 2023.