Wednesday August 21, 2019
Home Business New Space Rac...

New Space Race Underway to Exploit Skies for Commercial Profit

Tech giants and startups pursuing bold plans such as selling space tourism, mining asteroids and beaming giant adverts

0
//
Space, Commercial, Profit
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a communication satellite lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., April 11, 2019. VOA

Half a century after astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon, a new space race is underway to exploit the skies for commercial profit.

Tech giants and startups pursuing bold plans such as selling space tourism, mining asteroids and beaming giant adverts into the skies are winning millions in investment with pledges to bring the stars into reach.

Annual revenues from space-related business, currently worth $350 billion, could nearly triple in size by 2040, estimates U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley.

But the rapid growth of a market with seemingly boundless potential has sparked concerns about a lack of laws and potential conflicts over resources, prompting calls for more rules to govern humanity’s use of the cosmos.

Space, Commercial, Profit
Indian Space Research Organization’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle MkIII-M1 at its launch pad in Sriharikota, an island off India’s south-eastern coast, July 2019. VOA

“By 2040 (we believe) there will be 1,000 people living and working on the moon and 10,000 annual visitors,” said Aaron Sorenson, a spokesman from the Japanese lunar exploration startup ispace.

“Our company vision is to extend human presence into outer space. We believe that begins with the expansion of the earth’s economy to the moon,” he said.

Drops in launch costs brought about by technological advances such as the development of commercial reusable rockets have caught the interest of startups and investors.

Super-rich businesspeople including Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos who want to colonize space to support human life are pouring cash into cutting-edge private spacecraft.

Also Read- Laughter Can Make Bad Joke Seems Funnier

In addition, a resurgence in national space programs of countries such as India, which this week launched a rocket aiming to get a rover on the moon, as well as the United States and China could provide a source of funding for businesses.

Grand ambitions

Space hotels, cosmic business insurance, celestial advertising billboards, and in-space manufacturing are among the businesses being explored by firms hoping that technology will open up new horizons amid a boom of commercial space activity.

“I think very soon you are going to see major, traditional nonspace businesses taking notice,” said Sorenson, whose company is working to develop a high-frequency shuttle between earth and the moon.

Space, Commercial, Profit
Half a century after astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon, a new space race is underway to exploit the skies for commercial profit. Pixabay

Aerospace companies such as Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’ Blue Origin are aiming to become the first private firm to launch a human into space.

A handful of firms have also been exploring the potential of mining asteroids for minerals and resources, a business that for now remains in the realm of science fiction but which space companies think could be possible in a decade or two.

Governments are positioning to take advantage of these new markets even before they become a reality.

The United States and Luxembourg have both passed legislation aiming to allow property rights on planets and create regulations to permit space mining, with Russia indicating earlier this year that it may follow suit.

Also Read- Things to Keep in Mind to Make Co-Working Environment Work in Best Possible Way

But it is doubtful whether some of the more futuristic firms have yet established a clear business model, said Ian Christensen from the Secure World Foundation, a space advocacy group.

Cluttered skies?

The rush of speculation in space has also revealed gaps in the international laws and treaties governing its use and sparked calls for greater oversight.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, with more than 100 nations party to the agreement, provides the main framework for space law, and says no nation can claim ownership of outer space and it must be free for use by all countries.

“In those days everybody thought that space was basically for a few states, for military purposes,” said Frans von der Dunk, a professor of space law at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Nobody really foresaw the commercial development which we have seen since. So in that sense a lot needs to be clarified.”

Key questions include whether companies can claim ownership over space minerals, according to von der Dunk. If so, how should countries divide up access rights to ensure the spoils are shared fairly?

There is also debate about how to deal with the growing amount of “space junk” hurtling around the earth, such as broken satellites and spent rocket parts, which can cause serious damage to spacecraft.

“If it goes on like this then maybe 10 or 20 years from now it will be nearly impossible to conduct safe space operations because there’s so much junk floating around,” said von der Dunk.

Another worry is that plans by companies like Amazon and SpaceX to launch thousands of satellites will jam space with yet more clutter and increase the risk of collisions, said Christopher Newman, a space law and policy expert from Britain’s Northumbria University.

Clarifying the rules of doing business in space could benefit commercial operators by offering them stability and clearer costs and risks, say legal experts.

But the likelihood of world powers agreeing to any major new international space treaties or a body to referee disputes between nations are slim, Newman said.

He added that treaties that give away sovereignty are “out of fashion.”

Until a clearer picture emerges of the future of space infrastructure, he said, space players will continue to enjoy a degree of “anarchy.”

“Space is congested, competitive and contested … and it’s only going to get worse as the technology, orbital population and access to space all increase,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

Virgin Galactic to Run its Commercial Flight Operations

Spaceport America is no longer just a shiny shell of hope that space tourism would one day launch from this remote spot

0
Virgin Galactic's carrier plane makes its way across the apron in front of Spaceport America following a test flight over its new permanent home near Upham, New Mexico, Aug. 15, 2019. VOA

Spaceport America is no longer just a shiny shell of hope that space tourism would one day launch from this remote spot in the New Mexico desert.

The once-empty hangar that anchors the taxpayer-financed launch and landing facility has been transformed into a custom-tailored headquarters where Virgin Galactic will run its commercial flight operations.

The interior spaces unveiled Thursday aim to connect paying customers with every aspect of the operation, providing views of the hangar and the space vehicles as well as the banks of monitors inside mission control.

Two levels within the spaceport include mission control, a preparation area for pilots and a lounge for customers and their friends and families, with each element of the fit and finish paying homage to either the desert landscape that surrounds the futuristic outpost or the promise of traveling to the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic, Commercial, Flight
Virgin Galactic employees gather at the coffee bar that serves as the heart of the company’s social hub at Spaceport America near Upham, New Mexico, Aug. 15, 2019. VOA

From hotel rooms to aircraft cabins, the Virgin brand touts its designs for their focus on the customer experience. Spaceport is no different.

A social hub includes an interactive digital walkway and a coffee bar made of Italian marble. On the upper deck, shades of white and gray speak to Virgin Galactic’s more lofty mission.

Company officials say the space is meant to create “an unparalleled experience” as customers prepare for what Virgin Galactic describes as the journey of a lifetime.

Timeline not set

Also Read- Celebration in Panama City for its 500th anniversary

Just how soon customers will file into Virgin Galactic’s newly outfitted digs for the first commercial flights to space has yet to be determined. A small number of test flights are still needed.

“We were the first company to fly a commercial space ship to space with somebody in the back who was not a pilot — first time that somebody like that has been able to get out of their seats and float around the cabin,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said. “So it’s happening. We have a bit more work to do before we get to commercial service.”

Billionaire Richard Branson, who is behind Virgin Galactic, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, first pitched the plan for the spaceport nearly 15 years ago.

There were construction delays and cost overruns. Virgin Galactic’s spaceship development took far longer than expected and had a major setback when its first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.

Virgin Galactic, Commercial, Flight
A digital walkway with mirrored ceiling serves as the entrance to the social hub of Virgin Galactic’s digs at Spaceport America near Upham, New Mexico, Aug. 15, 2019. VOA

Critics suggested the project was a boondoggle, but supporters argued that there were bound to be hard and sometimes costly lessons.

Democratic state Sen. George Munoz has enduring concerns about the business model for commercial, low-orbit travel for passengers.

“You can have all the money in the world and come back and say, ‘Was my 30 seconds of fame worth that risk?'” he said.

Munoz says New Mexico’s anticipated return on investment in terms of jobs and visitors is still overdue, with more than $200 million in public funds spent on Spaceport America in cooperation with Virgin Galactic as the anchor tenant.

Also Read- ONGC to Invest Rs 83,000 crore in 25 Major Projects

New facility

At the facility Thursday, the carrier plane for Virgin’s rocket-powered passenger ship made a few passes and touch-and-goes over a runway.

Behind the spaceport’s signature wall of curved glass, mission control sits on the second floor with an unobstructed view of the runway and beyond.

There’s also space behind two massive sliding doors to accommodate two of Virgin Galactic’s carrier planes and a fleet of six-passenger rocket ships.

Virgin Galactic, Commercial, Flight
Virgin Galactic employees gather in the ground floor lounge at Spaceport America near Upham, New Mexico, Aug. 15, 2019. VOA

Virgin Galactic posted on social media earlier this week that its main operating base was now at the spaceport. And Branson said the wing of Virgin’s next rocket ship has been completed.

Chief Pilot Dave Mackay said the crew in the coming days will fly simulated launch missions to ensure in-flight communications and airspace coordination work as planned. The pilots also will be familiarizing themselves with New Mexico’s airspace and landmarks.

“New Mexico is on track to become one of the very few places on this beautiful planet which regularly launches humans to space,” Mackay said.

Whitesides said that once the test flights are complete, commercial operations can begin. He envisions a fundamental shift in humanity’s relationship with space, noting that fewer than 600 people ever have ventured beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

“We’re going to be able to send way more than that to space from this facility here,” he said. “In another 15 years, I really hope that we’ve had thousands of people go.”

About 600 people have reserved a seat, according to the company, at a cost of $250,000 a ticket.

That buys them a ride on the winged rocket ship, which is dropped in flight from the carrier airplane. Once free, it fires its rocket motor to hurtle toward the boundary of space before gliding back down.

The latest test flight reached an altitude of 56 miles (90 kilometers) while traveling at three times the speed of sound. (VOA)