Govt. Space Agencies Work with Private Industry in Exploration & on Space Station
The world of space exploration has become interesting as governments that have long dominated the scene, the United States & Russia (Soviet Union), have been joined by the European Space Agency, Japan, Canada, India and China while private companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Spaceflight (affordable satellite launches), Orbital ATK (space & defense systems) and others are amongst established and new partners in missions to the supply and maintain the International Space Station (ISS) and more.
While the U.S. and Russia are the primary stewards of Space Station, with the Russians driving and fixing it from their own side of the station, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency conduct experiments in various labs contained on the American portion of the station and, of course, pitch on day to to day ops. The constant international contingents are ramping up ISS operations as the space industry evolves in dramatic fashion. China doesn’t participate in the Space Station for security reasons and the India program is still finding their way through the beginning stages of a nascent space program.
Since the United States abandoned the Space Shuttle program, while in pursuit of exploring Mars with a Rover and the far reaches of space with craft like the Hubble Telescope, a group of private players have entered the space game with energy and ambition and they are, especially SpaceX in early 2016, shaking up the economics of the industry and creating an exciting new dynamism that didn’t exist a few years ago.
SpaceX and firms like Spaceflight and Orbital ATK, are driving down the costs of getting into and operating in space while Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is seeking to fashion a space tourism company, the world’s first Spaceline, with interesting new designed craft such as WhiteKnight Two and SpaceShip Two.
New energy has been given to refurbishing ISS while recent talk of abandoning the whole affair has dissipated. Elon Musk, CEO of Space X, who is committed to sending a mission to Mars, had one of the best weeks of his space career in April 2016 when CRS-8 (Commercial Resupply Services mission) had a flawless launch and landed the Falcon 9 first stage launch rocket on a droneship at sea as the exciting videos below show in dramatic detail. Conventional wisdom had been this was an impossible task, well that notion has now been put to rest and everyone else is playing catch-up. Congress is demanding NASA stop buying Russian rockets, which are used by ULA partners Boeing and Lockheed for orbital launches.
Bigelow Aerospace recently a portable habitat to the International Space Station for testiing. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an experimental program developed under a NASA contract in an effort to test and validate expandable habitat technology. Although BEAM is a fraction of the size of the B330, it will still serve as a vital pathfinder for validating the benefits of expandable habitats. NASA will leverage the International Space Station (ISS) in order to test this technology for a two-year demonstration period.
BEAM was launched in the unpressurized aft trunk compartment of the Dragon spacecraft on the eighth resupply mission to the ISS, SpaceX CRS-8. The launch occurred on April 8th, 2016.
Japan, Europe and Canada all believe in the keeping their agencies employed exploring space for the good of humanity and to expand knowledge of the Universe. When the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (CRS-8) docked at the Space Station, having been captured with the famed Canadian designed grappling arm by British astronaut Tim Peake, they were one of six vehicles docked at ISS. That is only the second time that has happened at ISS.
During the Cold War U.S. space programs purchased hardware based on agency needs from private contractors such as Boeing, Lockheed, McDonnell-Douglas, Northrup, Grumman, Hughes, Raytheon, Rocketdyne and others. Assets would be delivered according to the needs of various programs, like Gemini Mercury or Apollo, in contrast to the Soviet Union, a totalitarian dictatorship, which was strictly a government run operation that produced everything under the government banner in extreme secrecy and thus ended up with entirely different results.
The Soviets, more motivated than the U.S. government to move forward in space in the 1950s, achieved many firsts and their designs, such as engines which continue to be manufactured on Soviet era designs, have proven to be reliable workhorses. They followed the first satellite launch, Sputnik, with Yuri Gagarin as the First Man in Space and the Space Race was in full swing between the two superpowers.
In the early 1960s President Kennedy dared the United States to get a Man on the Moon by the end of the decade and all stops were pulled out as Wernher von Braun, who was a rocket pioneer for Germany during World War II, proved a highly successful First Center Director of the Marshall Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama from July 1960 to January 1970. In July 1969 von Braun’s long held dream was realized when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans to walk on the Moon.
Danny Quintana’s original premise for his latest book, Space & Ocean Exploration: The Alternative to the Military-Industrial Complex, was for a portion of the U.S. defense budget to be diverted for space and ocean exploration for the benefit of Mankind.
Well, that desire still holds true and the picture looks brighter as the space exploration business is exciting and dynamic again. It is fun to be a fan of space exploration again.
Logos below are from NASA of the National Aeronautics and Space Association of the United States, CSA of the Canadian Space Agency, JAXA of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and ESA of the European Space Agency.