Agencies rekindle interests in space


by Kaitlyn Do

graphic by Emily Duong & Alan Guardado

With the recent launching of SpaceX’s self-landing Falcon 9 rocket, government agencies and private companies around the world look to the sky with anticipation for innovations in the space industry.

Years of stagnation in space exploration after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) shuttle program ended saw private corporations, such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic enter the new “Gilded Age.” At the forefront of this new space race is SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Musk’s rise in recognition as a credible innovator began with the development of the Dragon capsule, which was the first-ever commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), a habitable artificial satellite that orbits Earth and serves as a science laboratory and home for astronauts and cosmonauts. The ISS was built by Canada, the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan, the Russian Federation and the U.S.

Developing a spacecraft that successfully delivered cargo to the ISS was a feat accomplished only by NASA before 2012. That year marked the introduction of private companies into the space industry, where 20 years ago only government agencies and older private companies like Boeing were competing.

As of 2011, Musk announced the start of SpaceX’s Dragon and development program, marking its 30th launch since the inception of the program on Oct. 7. Dragon, Falcon 9’s star asset, is a crew capsule with a launch abort system designed to propel the capsule away from the rocket in the event of an emergency. Once released, the thrust of the propulsion will initiate the capsule’s parachute to slow its momentum.

Falcon 9’s Dragon is set for a demonstration flight in January of 2019 where it will fly a crew to the ISS, carrying out its intended purpose. If Musk’s program is successful, the U.S. will no longer be dependent on Russia’s Progress’ Soyuz FG spacecraft to deliver astronauts to the ISS, and will be able to cut costs.

Following Musk’s Falcon 9, Sir Richard Branson’s SpaceShipTwo of Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezo’s New Shepard of Blue Origin and Stéphane Israël’s Ariane 5 of Arianespace are crucial competitors along with Russia’s Soyuz FG of Progress Rocket Space Centre of Roscosmos, according to The Guardian. China’s China National Space Administration, Europe’s ESA, Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission and U.S’s NASA, in conjunction with United Arab Emirates’ UAE Space Agency, are expected to compete as well.

Musk’s Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s partially reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle derived from the original Falcon 9 vehicle, is most favored by space experts, according to Business Insider.

SpaceX, along with other American space organizations like NASA’s Jet-Propulsion Laboratory, expect living on Mars to become a reality in humanity’s future. Increasing international interest in space exploration creates a demand for students to prepare for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

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